In a more mobile society, with families moving away to different cities and states, the elderly become more dependent on nursing homes, long-term care or assisted living facilities, and hired help in their own homes. However, some do move in with their adult children. This can be quite an adjustment for both children and their parents—especially as the elderly experience some of the frailties common with aging.

If your elderly parent has physical disabilities, you may need to make changes to your home. Ramps, stair climbers, railings, and carpeting (as opposed to scatter rugs) may be necessary to prevent falls and help you parent cope with increasing weakness or loss of balance. While you can’t force your parents to use a cane or walker, you may find yourself employing gentle nagging (just as they did with you when you were young). You may also need to make adjustments to shopping and meal preparation to meet special dietary needs.

If your elderly parent is experiencing dementia, memory loss, or confusion, there are several things you can do to make life easier:

  • Establish a routine and stick to it.
  • Keep things in the same place. Don’t move furniture around.
  • Make sure there are night-lights in all the rooms your parent can access.
  • When friends arrive, tell your parents their names and who they are. Link them to an event from the past that your parent might remember.
  • If your parent can be a little combative, let your friends know in advance so they don’t take it personally or get drawn into an uncomfortable discussion.

If you have friends with elderly parents living in their homes, you can help them out by offering to spend an evening so your friend can go out to dinner, or take their parent out for a car ride so your friend can have some time in the home alone. Ask if you can bring over a meal (check about any special diets first), or be clear with your friend that you’re available to offer a hand. As with any offer of help, it’s more useful to be specific: “Would you like me to take your mother for her hair appointment this week?”