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Top Tips and Advice for What to Do With a Mentally Ill Parent

elderly parent washing hands at the sink

Written by:

Jeffrey Grossman


April 26, 2021

It’s not always easy to take care of mentally ill elderly parents as an adult child. Yet, many adult children find themself in this situation and are unsure how to deal with a parent with mental illness.

Thankfully, you’re not alone, and there are many great resources available as you navigate getting help for a parent with dementia or other mental illness.

Are you interested in learning more about what to do with a mentally ill parent?

Have you thought, “I think my mom needs mental help,” but aren’t sure what to do?

Did you know that there’s home care for mental health patients to alleviate your burden of care?

Keep reading to learn more about dealing with elderly parents with mental illness. We’ll discuss some of the emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent, as well as some of the best care resources available.


The Emotional Effects of Caring for an Elderly Parent

Many adult children believe that elder care costs are their responsibility. Additionally, 55% of American seniors expect their adult children to take care of them.

Becoming a family caregiver to elderly parents is a duty you may feel obliged to fulfill. Caring for an aging parent can be rewarding but will also come with its challenges. Caring for a mentally ill elderly parent can significantly heighten these difficulties.

Before you become a caregiver to parents with a mental illness, it’s best to prepare yourself as much as possible. Here are some of the most common emotions you may feel or experience when caring for an elderly parent.


1. Worry

Worry is the first emotion you may feel when you realize your mentally ill parent needs help. 

Some of the things that may cause you to worry when dealing with elderly parents with mental illness are that:

  • Your parent can’t care for themself anymore
  • Your parent will experience a fall or other physical emergency
  • Your parent’s personality will change
  • Your parent will become forgetful
  • You can’t care for them yourself

Remain calm and take a deep breath. Talk with a spouse or close friend. Try to keep a healthy balance in life by eating right, getting adequate sleep, and looking for help or care resources.


2. Anger or Frustration

Anger and frustration are other common emotions that are quick to present themself. You may feel angry or frustrated:

  • That your parent has a mental illness
  • About your role as a caregiver
  • Toward your parent’s inability to listen
  • When your parents respond poorly to or resist your help  

It’s important to remember this isn’t you or your parents’ fault, so don’t allow yourself to cast blame. Try to remain patient and calm when caring for your loved one with dementia or another mental illness.

Like with worry, it’s beneficial to find ways to cope with and diminish your anger or frustration. You can remove yourself from a situation for a brief moment when anger arises or take time to engage in regular exercises like yoga or walking to calm yourself.


3. Helplessness

It’s easy to feel helpless when you’re caring for a mentally ill elderly parent.

Sometimes asking for help is one of the most challenging things to do. However, when getting help for a parent with dementia or another mental illness, it can be one of the most beneficial actions.

Help for mentally ill seniors and parents can come from:

It never hurts to ask someone for help. Others may be unable to help every day, but often those closest to you can help in some capacity. 

In-home care for mental health patients is also a great way to get consistent, professional help for elderly parents with mental illness. We’ll talk more in-depth about home care and other helpful resources in this next section.


How to Deal With a Parent With Mental Illness

Understanding your emotions and feelings as a caregiver is a significant first step in providing quality care to your loved ones. It’s also valuable to know how to care for them and what resources or services are at your disposal.

Below we’ve provided three helpful starting points and solutions about what to do with a mentally ill parent.  


1. Have a Conversation With Your Parent

The first thing you’ll want to do is talk with your parents when you see signs that they’re dealing with a mental illness. 

Having a conversation about mental illness can be a touchy subject, so it’s best to try to:

  • Keep a calm tone and voice
  • Ask them questions about their health instead of telling them what’s wrong
  • Choose a time when both parties are calm
  • Expect resistance and don’t take outbursts personally
  • Stay patient and understanding

If the conversation gets tense or doesn’t go well the first time, that’s okay. You can always step away and look for another time to re-engage.


2. Connect With a Medical Professional

Talking with a medical professional can be helpful when caring for a mentally ill elderly parent. These professionals could be a doctor, psychologist, therapist, or combination of these. They can help you if you’re wondering how to get an elderly parent evaluated.

  • Medical doctor: A medical doctor can provide insight into how your parent’s physical body is behaving. They can help prescribe medications or promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Psychologist: A psychologist can give your parents expert insight into the brain and behavior changes. Psychology elderly care can help you know what to expect from your parents on a mental level.
  • Therapist: Seeing a trained therapist can be helpful for you or your parents. They can help you understand and manage the stress of caregiving. A therapist can assist your parents in dealing with their changes, too.

Any of these experts can help you and your parents better understand your parents’ condition and the care they need. Connecting with a medical professional is also an excellent way to have your parents hear about their condition from a respected, third-party individual.


3. In-home Care

One of the best ways to get help for mentally ill seniors is through in-home care services. These agencies offer short-term respite care solutions for family caregivers, as well as consistent long-term care if your parents need 24-hour care.

As a family caregiver, you may need a break from full-time caregiving. Hiring a respite caregiver will provide you with a few hours to focus on yourself and your responsibilities. With respite care, caregivers will come directly to you or your parent’s home to provide companionship or hands-on care to parents. 

If your parents need around-the-clock care, home care providers can meet that need as well. 24-hour caregivers usually come in 8- or 12-hour shifts to make sure your parents always have someone to assist them.

Most top-quality home care companies will train their caregivers to provide specific help and care to elderly adults with mental illnesses.


The Best Help for Mentally Ill Elderly Parents

Caring for an elderly parent who has a mental illness is an excellent way for adult children to help their parents as they age. However, it can come with emotional and physical difficulties. As a family caregiver, it’s good to know what to expect and what resources are available.

Emotions like worry, anger, frustration, or helplessness are typical for family caregivers to experience. Know that it’s normal to feel these emotions, and there are ways to deal with them. 

As you care for your parents, talk with them, and connect with medical professionals, you may realize you can’t care for your parents alone. Help is accessible, whether through other family members or through an in-home care company.

Commonwise Home Care is a premier provider of home care services for elderly adults. We’ve trained and equipped our Care Managers and Caregivers to provide expert care to aging seniors with mental illness. Care Managers take the time to get to know you and your aging parents so they can create a personalized care plan. Caregivers enter your parents’ place of residence and put the care plan into action. 

Contact us today to hear about all the ways we can help you as you seek care for your elderly parents.