Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings South Jersey

The Emotional and Physical Challenges of Caring for an Elderly Parent

Feb 28, 2023 08:00AM ● By Nancy Seigle

by Daniel Salomone, CSA, CDP 

As parents age and need a little help in life, their children often feel a responsibility to provide  care. After all, we love our parents and they cared for us when we were young, so it’s the right thing to do. We want to do everything we can for them. But caring for an elderly parent or parents can often jeopardize the health and well-being of the care provider.  

According to a recent study, family caregivers of older adults have greater health risks compared to non-caregivers. They have higher rates of depressive symptoms, anxiety, stress and other emotional difficulties. Evidence also suggests that caregivers have lower self-ratings of physical health, elevated levels of stress hormones, higher rates of chronic disease and impaired health behaviors. 

While care giving responsibilities for an older adult vary depending upon the type of illness the care recipient has, how close the care provider lives to the recipient, the involvement of siblings and family cultural norms, most care providers often feel a range of emotions, physical issues and logistical challenges. 


According to the Cleveland Clinic, several things may happen when we are thrust into the role of caregiver. 


It can be difficult to separate the role as caregiver from the role of spouse, child, friend or with other close relationships. 


Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a significant positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient and this may be unrealistic. 


Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources and skills to effectively plan, manage and organize their loved one’s care. 


Some family members may place unreasonable demands on the caregiver. They may also disregard their own responsibilities and place burdens on the person identified as a primary caregiver. 


Caregivers may put pressure on themselves to provide “perfect care” and, when that’s not possible, they may feel that they have failed. Furthermore, they may feel guilty about losing their temper, showing impatience, feeling resentment regarding their responsibilities or frustration with other family members. Caregivers may also believe that they are being selfish when they think about their own needs or desperately need a break.  


Research shows that caregivers have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than non-caregivers. Cortisol may reduce the efficiency of the immune system, so caregivers are more likely to become ill and are more likely to be depressed, irritable and impatient. Burnout may also become an issue for the caregiver because providing care for a parent can affect the caregiver’s children, their relationship with a significant other and job performance. 


According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to those of stress and depression including withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones; loss of interest in activities; feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless; changes in appetite, weight or both and sleep patterns; getting sick more often; feelings of wanting to hurt ourselves or the person for whom we are caring; and emotional and physical exhaustion and irritability. 


For care providers to relieve stress, experts recommend such coping strategies as exercise, having a healthy diet, adequate sleep, yoga, meditation, prayer, avoid excessive alcohol and recreational drug use, take breaks (respite), socialize, set care limits and moderate expectations, seek advice from friends or relatives, learn as much as possible about the care recipient’s medical condition, use outside support services and accept our feelings by allowing ourselves to feel frustrated or angry about our responsibilities—it doesn’t mean we’re a bad care provider or a bad person. 

Most importantly, the caregiver must take care of themselves. They must engage in relaxing, recreational activities. If the caregiver becomes sick or burns out, their ability to provide care will be diminished. 


An Area Agency on Aging is designated in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties to serve as the primary entity responsible for developing comprehensive, coordinated systems of community-based services for older adults: 

 New Jersey’s Department of Aging Services provides services and support for elderly residents and caregivers through several programs:  

Daniel Salomone, a Certified Senior Advisor and a Certified Dementia Provider, has worked in health care for over 30 years and is the owner of Senior Care Authority (SCA) of South Jersey and Philadelphia, a senior care advisory service that provides families with help finding assisted living and memory care for seniors. SCA’s services are typically provided at no cost to the families. 


Read the Current Issue
Stay Connected


Nap Less For Heart Health