5 strategies to help you cope when a parent becomes frail and needs more care

5 strategies to help you cope when a parent becomes frail and needs more care

Lesley Trenner, Ageing Parent CoachToday’s article is by Dr Lesley Trenner, an Ageing Parent Coach based in London. Lesley has 10 years’ experience working with individuals and organisations undergoing change. She has a particular interest in the challenges presented by mid-life changes and in supporting people with ageing parents.

Lesley highlights five key things that can help you cope more easily when a parent becomes frail – and how a coach can help in these situations…


“My own mother gradually declined in her 80s and was diagnosed with dementia before going into a care home. At that time I was trying to ‘live her life’ as well as my own, which included full-time working, so I understand how hard it can be.”

Are you becoming mother or father to your own mother or father?

Is this you?

  • You’re suddenly aware of things changing. Your parents used to look after you, now you have to look after them.
  • You’ve noticed that your mother is constantly forgetting and losing things or, worse, she has just been diagnosed with dementia. You don’t know whether you can handle this.
  • Your father needs additional care but you feel overwhelmed by all the decisions that need to be taken.
  • You’re finding it hard to talk to your parent or others in the family about what is happening. You feel responsible but also taken for granted.
  • You had a great relationship with them or a difficult one… but the decline in your elderly parent is now making you feel sad, angry, guilty, inadequate.
  • You feel torn between the demands of your ageing parent and the rest of your family. Your life is no longer your own.

Sometimes life gets tough. Just when you thought you had a bit of time ahead to focus on your career, spend more time with your partner or enjoy retirement, you realise that your mother or father (or other ageing relative) is needing more and more support. You’re suddenly in a world where you have to make financial, legal and sometimes even life and death decisions, and each of these carries with it a range of complex emotions that are weighing you down.

These 5 strategies can help you cope:

1.  Get informed – find out as much as you can about your parent’s health, daily life and finances, what services are available and what they are entitled to.

2.  Accept that you may be on an emotional roller-coaster – even if they don’t admit it, most people supporting ageing parents go through a range of feelings like anger, guilt and regret.

3.  Make the most of the good times – whilst things may often be difficult, try to hold on to positive memories and enjoy some ‘quality time’ with your parent.

4.  Get organised – write ‘to do’ lists, take notes when seeing the doctor, make sure that your parent’s home is uncluttered and that things are in the correct place.

5.  Look after your own health and wellbeing – try to eat and sleep well and take short breaks or holidays. Talk about what you are going though and make sure you have support.

How could talking to an ‘ageing parent coach’ help?

Coaching helps you handle what life throws at you. It helps you solve problems, think through and implement ideas, untangle complex emotions and make decisions.

A trained coach will listen without judging, will understand and offer support. Coaching provides an oasis where you can talk in confidence, gain perspective and find ways to move forward. When you’re caught up in an emotional situation, it can be hard to think about the practicalities but there are nearly always different choices that can be made, new ideas, untapped sources of information.

Often, with ageing parents, there are no easy answers. Sometimes all you can do is find a different way to approach the same situation. That may be a realisation that things won’t be this way for ever or a technique that helps you detach and feel calmer.

What kind of issues can you talk to a coach about?

Having an ageing parent affects us all in different and sometimes unexpected ways. A coach will listen to whatever issues are most important to you and won’t be shocked or embarrassed. For example:

  • I feel alone with this. How can I get more support from the rest of the family.
  • My mother getting older has made me start to worry about my own signs of ageing and what will happen to me in the future.
  • I know I ought to say that my father-in-law can move in with us, but I don’t think I’ve got the patience to be a carer.
  • I’ve never been very good with financial stuff, but now I have to look after my mother’s finances on top of everything else.

How is this different from seeing a counsellor or talking it over with a friend?

Counselling can be useful if the situation is making you depressed and unable to function.

Friends and family can be a great support. But they may be too busy or find the subject a bit too close to home. Sometimes they ‘dump’ their opinions on you or try to cheer you up by changing the subject when you really need a sympathetic ear.

A coach will listen without making any assumptions, and will support and empathise without ‘taking sides’. They will guide you towards finding your own solutions in your own unique set of circumstances, gently pointing out any inconsistencies and helping you find inner strength.

What tangible results do you get from coaching?

Results vary depending on what the person supporting an ageing parent needs. In my own personal situation I found a coach who helped me:

  • regain some peace of mind – I found it useful to have regular time slots to review how the dementia was progressing, what impact it was having on the family and how to assess and handle the risks.
  • untangle the feelings – initially everything felt very jumbled up. Coaching helped me to look at the ‘least worst’ options and to find ways of coping that were right for me.
  • communicate with my siblings – we needed to put aside our differences, discuss the best ways to keep my mother happy and safe in her own home and agree when was the right time for her to go into a care home.

You might get other useful outcomes, like finding ways to:

  • be more assertive with health and social care professionals
  • ask for help from others
  • take better care of your own health
  • spend less time worrying about all the ‘what-ifs’ and why you aren’t doing more
  • enjoy the moment more

How much time does coaching take?

And what if you’re too busy to get this kind of support?

You might talk to a coach for about an hour every other week. If this is on the phone or via Skype you wouldn’t even need to leave the house (although you would need undisturbed time).

Coaching is time well spent because you gain a clearer understanding of what is going on, how to cope, what you can change and what you may have to learn to live with.

You will be become a better support for your ageing parent and can hopefully spend more ‘quality time’ with them so that, as well as the tough times, you will also have some good memories to look back on.

To find out more and to arrange a FREE introductory consultation (worth up to £40), email me, Lesley Trenner. In your email, mention Care To Be Different and send a brief outline of what you would like to talk about.  I work  with clients in person, by phone or by Skype. Visit the website.


  1. Jill Helders 4 months ago

    I have today taken my father to a nursing home after he was discharged from hospital for
    Palliative care. Mum has Alzheimer’s so doesn’t understand that dad is ill and the care he needs. She is exhibiting dangerous behaviour at home and my brother has moved in with her and we have carers twice a day for her medication. Having both of them ill is really hard and I know we will have to find somewhere for Mum once dad has gone but I can’t help feeling guilty about both ending their lives in care.

  2. Patricia Bird 1 year ago

    Hello Rose,
    I need some help as I am trying to get my Aunt (I am next of kin) discharged from hospital.She had a fall and broke both wrists,the casts were removed on November 9th and she has been fit enough to leave hospital since then.She has mild dementia and prior to the fall she was living next door to me with my mother who also has dementia. I cared for both of them with some outside help. I am prepared to continue looking after both of them but the social worker,occupational therapist, discharge nurse seem hell bent on sending her to a care home.My Aunt wants to come home but as I only have financial power of attorney they will not listen to me or her. Am I allowed to be present when they assess her mental ability or not? as she has always been a very nervous person and always needed someone to lean on. Thank you.

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 1 year ago

      Patricia – sorry for the late response. It sounds as though there should be a Mental Capacity Assessment: http://caretobedifferent.co.uk/mental-capacity-assessments/. (Keep in mind that mental capacity is about making a specific decision at a specific time about a specific thing, rather than a general assessment of cognitive ability.) There may then need to be a Best Interests meeting. If you google “best interests meetings” you’ll find more information on how these should be carried out.

  3. Marion Greenwood 3 years ago

    Hello Rose,
    I had a similar situation with my mum when her vascular dementia progressed, resulting in regular UTIs and falls. i knew it was unsafe at home and that Mum needed constant supervision. I looked around at several residential homes until I found one which I felt was not only safe and well managed, but also kind and caring. It made me feel a lot happier to think of Mum being in a nice environment.

  4. rose dileva 4 years ago

    I recently had a session with Lesley Trenner to talk through my anxieties about trying to convince my very poorly mum that a nursing home was the best place for her to be looked after. I found talking to Lesley was very helpful, she demonstrated great empathy and understanding with my dilemma and assured me that all the emotions I was experiencing were completely normal and understandable as well as offering useful suggestions on how to move forward. I can recommend Lesley as an excellent life coach with knowledge on dealing with elderly parents.
    Rose Dileva

    • Angela 4 years ago

      What lovely feedback for Lesley! I’m so glad she’s been able to help you, Rose.

  5. Lesley Trenner 4 years ago

    Hello Rose – that all sounds very difficult. Glad to know caretobedifferent is helping with the financial side. I would be glad to offer you a ‘taster’ coaching session to talk through the stress, anxiety, guilt side which is unfortunately so often part of supporting an ageing parent. Please drop me an email with your own email address and/or phone number so we can arrange a time to talk
    Best wishes

  6. rose dileva 4 years ago

    Lesley – My 78 year old mum has just been discharged from hospital on the step down system to a nursing home, when a CHC checklist was done she triggered for a full assessment for CHC funding. She has severe heart failure and COPD and requires continuous oxygen, she normally lives alone. At the moment I’m gathering as much knowledge and information that I can to present when the assessment takes place. I feel under great pressure to get things right for mum, but I also feel guilty as she doesn’t really want to be in a home, I work and also live about 20 miles away and I know that it would be unsafe for mum to be discharged home. I do feel very anxious and stressed about it all. I find Care To Be Different very helpful.

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