Caring for an Aging Parent

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CV, No. 2February, 2005

Leslie Cardell, LCSW

Caring for aging or ill parents may be something you never expected to have to do, but nevertheless, here you are. The people who fed you, got you to school, and left a quarter from the tooth fairy under your pillow now need help keeping the bank account straight and getting to the doctor. They may even need help with their most basic needs. How can this be possible?

Approximately 22 million American families and friends are providing care for another adult, sometimes around the clock, according to a recent survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving, and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Whether or not you got along in the first place, it can be a shock to suddenly feel responsible for the welfare of a parent. Part of that shock is being confronted with the reality that some day, perhaps sooner than you’d expected, you will lose them. Thinking about our parents getting old and dying only makes it that much more apparent that the same will inevitably be true for us. It reminds us that we’re next.


Caring for an ill or disabled parent can feel frightening and overwhelming for many reasons. There may be some difficult choices to be made, and it’s important to be realistic about what your emotional and financial resources will really allow. Trying to be the superhero while juggling a career and perhaps the demands of children and a spouse can be a recipe for burnout.

Doing more than you can manage only leads to resentment, and resentment can lead to guilt. It seems wrong to have such negative feelings towards the person who raised you, and you begin to blame yourself for feeling that way. Ask yourself if you would want your own children to give up their lives to care for you. Thinking this through can help put things in perspective.

Sometimes people feel that they are the only ones capable of giving the right kind of care. What if you weren’t around; who would do these things for you parent? You may not always be able to help your parent, and pushing yourself past your limits only makes that more likely. It’s important to seek out help from others now.

Even when there’s no emergency, responding to an elderly parent’s needs can make difficult demands on your time and emotions. Perhaps your mother has started calling you several times a day, or your father refuses to give up his driver’s license despite his frequent fender benders. If you’ve not yet been faced with a crisis, planning ahead can allow you to be proactive rather than reactive, and avoid some of the problems of having to jump in unprepared and make decisions on the fly.


Talking with a parent about their living situation and the possible need for change now or in the future is important, but it’s not always easy. You may be tempted to postpone such a conversation to avoid potential conflict or discomfort. By doing so you could miss out on an opportunity to become closer, and to get the information you’ll need to make difficult decisions in the future. Knowing clearly what your parent would have wanted can give you great peace of mind if you ever have to make decisions for them.

There are many resources available for help and information in caring for an elderly parent. One of them of course, is the Musicians’ Assistance Program. Don’t hesitate to call us at (212)-397-4802, if you need assistance.

In addition, the Actors’ Fund will be offering a workshop on April 13 for adult children faced with caring for aging parents. An attorney specializing in elder law will be offering advice on how to navigate some of the legal issues that arise in planning ahead and caring for elderly parents. Call (212) 221-7300, ext. 255 for more information.

The following resources were used in preparing this column:, and