Our parents raise us and take care of everything when we’re little. Therefore, having to care for them can sometimes come as a shock. It can be difficult seeing our parents – who have been strong authority figures throughout our lives – become vulnerable or dependent.
But while the role of caring for elderly parents can bring challenges, there are also many benefits. We’ll cover some of these below, and hear from Rest Less member Helen, who’s a full-time carer for her 81-year-old mother.
Helen, 52, is a full-time carer for her 81-year-old mother
Helen Smith, 52, from Cardiff has been a full-time carer for her 81-year-old mother for the past five years.
Helen has a 25-year-old son, a three-year-old grandson, and works in social media as a bilingual moderator.
She spoke to us about what it’s like to juggle work with being a full-time carer for her mother, sharing some of the many benefits she’s experienced while caring for an elderly parent.
Helen explained that her life is so enriched by her mother and that they provide each other with comfort and company.
As mother and daughter, they’ve been through a lot, which has brought them closer together and made them more like friends now.
Helen says, “I am blessed with love and friendship from my mother. I’ve had to make certain sacrifices to become a full-time carer, but seeing my mam happy and content makes it all worthwhile.”
We’ll hear more about Helen’s experiences throughout the article.
7 benefits of caring for your parents
From gaining a sense of purpose and boosting your own health, to allowing a parent to remain at home where they’re comfortable, there are many benefits of caring for your parents.
1. Caring for your parents can provide a sense of purpose
Many of us have a desire to feel needed. If you’ve ever felt as though you’re simply floating through life not making a difference, it’s likely that you haven’t yet found your meaning or purpose – or that you’re in need of a new one.
While challenging at times, care is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. It’s hard to feel like you don’t have a purpose when someone relies on you so heavily and you’re making a difference to their quality of life every day.
Caring for others creates a sense of belonging and reduces feelings of isolation. This sense of purpose and belonging can be even stronger when caring for someone close to you.
Caring for an elderly parent can restore some meaning to their life too. When people become unable to do the things they used to love or have to rely on others to do everyday tasks, they can often feel as though they’ve lost their identity or are a burden to their loved ones.
But having a child choose to spend their time caring for them can stand as a strong reminder to elderly parents that they’re valued and loved. Being reminded that they still have a place in the world, and with you, can be a powerful way to help elderly people look forward to the days ahead rather than dread them.
Helen says, “Knowing my mother feels comfortable, and that I’m providing everything she needs gives me a great sense of purpose.
“However, it’s important to make sure you take care of yourself too. For example, I go swimming once a week and if I have some spare time, I like to go for a walk, or visit Cardiff Bay or Cardiff Castle to enjoy a bit of photography.”
2. Caring for your parents allows them to remain living at home or with you
A huge benefit of caring for elderly parents is that it allows them to remain living outside of a care home – either in their own home or by moving in with you.
According to a survey by the Live-In Care Hub, 97% of people would prefer to continue living at home rather than move into a care home.
Research shows that home care can help to preserve self-esteem, dignity, and confidence levels – all of which are essential to happiness and wellbeing. This can often empower elderly adults to continue doing things for themselves, with the assurance that help is there when needed.
Remaining at home can also help to resolve other issues that are often overlooked – such as what to do with pets when moving to a care home (the majority of which don’t allow pets).
By living at home or moving in with you, your elderly parent(s) can enjoy the many benefits of having their pet with them. Research has revealed that pets are natural mood-boosters and bring many health benefits, including improved heart health and reduced stress levels.
Helen says, “I think the main benefit of being a carer for a parent is that I get the satisfaction that my mother’s cared for in an excellent way that no care home could offer her – it’s the personal touches she appreciates. I’m not just her daughter, I’m her companion.
“Care homes are great for those who need them; for example, my father lived in a care home for two years because he needed palliative care after a stroke, which I couldn’t provide for him. But for my mam, thankfully no extra help is needed yet, so I can be there to bathe and dress her, and massage her sore legs. She enjoys the independence of living with me.”
3. Caring for your parents provides a sense of comfort and familiarity
Getting used to someone taking care of your personal needs can sometimes be tricky – especially for people who’ve been independent their whole lives.
However, having a family member care for you rather than a stranger can help to take some anxiety out of the situation; especially when it comes to things like washing, dressing, and going to the toilet.
Due to the number of people in residential facilities, even the very best care homes aren’t able to focus on one person all the time. And even with live-in carers, there’s nothing quite like the comfort, bond, and level of companionship that comes with being cared for by your own family.
Helen says, “My mother’s at an age now that she has different aches and pains, and certain foods she can’t tolerate. I love cooking for her and making the old-fashioned meals that she loves. I dress her, spritz a bit of perfume on her each day, and make sure she has her heat insoles in her shoes so her feet don’t go numb.
“It gives me great pleasure to look after her. She still has her wits and has a wonderful sense of humour, and being with her is comforting for us both.”
4. Caring for your parents can boost physical and mental health
Receiving care can boost a person’s physical and mental health in many ways. But the companionship aspect of it can be life-changing.
With so many elderly people living alone, research (like this from Age UK) has highlighted the prevalence of social isolation in older generations – finding that around 1.4 million older adults in the UK often feel lonely.
Unfortunately, research has linked social isolation and loneliness with a higher risk of developing various physical and mental health conditions. This includes high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, cognitive decline, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and a weakened immune system. For example, this study found that social isolation can increase the risk of dementia by 50%.
Therefore, providing care and companionship for your elderly parent(s) can have a significant impact on their physical and mental health. Plus, caring for others can boost your own physical and mental health too.
Biologically, giving to others (whether that’s our time, money, or attention) creates a warm, happy feeling inside. This is caused by the activation of areas of the brain associated with pleasure and connection.
Research also suggests that people who give their time to help others have greater self-esteem, lower levels of depression, and improved physical health. For example, in this study, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.
Helen says, “Having to care for my mother is not only good for my mental health, but hers too. I’m a very happy woman looking after my mam. We have a positive mental attitude and a real good laugh together.”
5. Caring for your parents allows you to spend quality time together and strengthen your bond
Caring for an elderly parent gives you the gift of quality time together. If you’re used to daily or weekly phone calls – or annual trips that only last a few days – then caring for your elderly parent could help to strengthen your bond.
Research has shown that caregiving, whether between family members or not, naturally enhances empathy, strengthens relationships, and improves your ability to connect with people, even in difficult times. For example, in this study, over one third of caregivers noted that their relationship with the person they were caring for strengthened during the caregiving period.
Caring for an elderly parent is also a great opportunity to do fun activities together. Not only can this help to keep life fresh and exciting, but it can also be beneficial for our mental health. Studies show that trying new activities can improve long-term memory and brain function, and increase happiness and self-esteem – especially among older adults.
For ideas on how to get started, have a read of our article; 9 fun activities to do with the person you care for. From birdwatching and art and craft projects to hosting your own afternoon tea, these activities are sure to put a smile on both of your faces.
Helen says, “We love going on outings. When it’s a nice day, we set off in the car together and explore somewhere different or visit my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson in Swansea.
“If she wants to go to the supermarket with me, or the indoor market in Cardiff, we make a real day of it by having a nice cup of coffee while we’re out. We recently went out for a lovely meal to celebrate mine and my son’s birthdays too, and to see my mam’s face beaming just filled me with so much pleasure.”
6. Caring for your parents provides an opportunity to give back
Caring for an elderly parent is a way of returning some of the love and nurture you may have received from them over the years.
Typically, our parents feed, clothe, shelter, and support us, so taking care of them now can be a beautiful full-circle experience. If you have children, it’s also worth considering what you’d want them to do for you in the future.
While this reversal of roles between parent and child can sometimes be challenging – for example, it may take them some time to get used to being the one being cared for – it can also be highly rewarding.
Helen says, “My mam worked hard her whole life caring for others, and now I’m giving her what she deserves. One day I’d love to take her on a little holiday – perhaps in a static caravan. Something that’s wheelchair friendly.”
7. Caring for your parents provides peace of mind for you and your family
It’s natural to worry about the wellbeing and safety of an elderly parent. For example, you might worry whether they’ve had a fall or forgotten to take their medication.
However, being the sole caregiver for your parent(s) can help to relieve these worries because you’ll be there in person. Having someone available to call on day and night can also provide invaluable reassurance for your parent(s) too.
Helen says, “I get peace of mind knowing I’ve made my mother happy every day. Putting a smile on her face and knowing she’s happy is all I really want.
“It also gives my sisters peace of mind that mam is being cared for, and I regularly keep them updated on how things are.”
While challenging at times, caring for an elderly parent can be one of the most rewarding roles out there. From giving you both purpose and helping to improve their health, to strengthening your bond and bringing them joy, there are many benefits of caring for your parents.
However, it’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is different and, in some cases, stepping in as a carer to your parents may not be the right option or feasible for you. Luckily, there are plenty of other care options to consider – all of which have their own benefits.
To search for experienced carers who’ll match your care needs, you can visit the Curam website using the button below.
And for more general information and care tips, take a look at the care section of our website.
Do you have experience caring for an elderly parent? What do you think are the main benefits? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.