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When Roles Reverse…Navigating Boundaries of Reduced Physical and Neurological Abilities that comes with Aging

By Brandy Browne

It’s a delicate walk when your loved ones begin to show the unavoidable deficits that come with aging and/or trauma to the body. A stroke can, for example, alter not only physical abilities such as gait, motor control, speech, etc., but it can also alter cognitive abilities as well, such as emotion, reasoning, etc. As your parents age or undergo circumstances that might have changed their abilities, you might begin to see more childlike characteristics appearing, but it is unacceptable to treat your parent the same way in regards to discipline and communication that you would your son or daughter. How then do we navigate this difficult time in our lives? 

First, it is important to help caregivers know that you are not alone. According to recent research on lifespan within the United States alone, many are living well into their eighties and nineties, which means that many middle aged Americans (thirties, forties, fifties) are acting as caregivers for their senior parents. These caregivers likely help manage finances, personal care tasks, doctor appointments, etc. has a list of resources in the means of support groups for those caring for aging loved ones found at

There are several factors to keep in mind in managing care for your loved one. Here are a few key strategies to utilize…

4 Strategies to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

  1. Communicate. Each member of the family should be willing to assist in whatever manner is the best fit for them. This will look different for each person. Maybe one person is very strong with finances, whereas another is more nurturing. It would make sense for the financially literate individual to handle finances, whereas the more nurturing child to assist with the more delicate care tasks. 
  2. Remember that it is not all about you. Accepting help and being in a more delicate condition presents just as many hurdles for your aging parent as being the caregiver of an aging parent presents for you. Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, PhD, coordinator of the Gerontology Program at Northeastern Illinois University, states, “It’s so important to realize that there is a lot of stress to being the care recipient. There are just as many mental hurdles that need to be overcome for the aging parent — like accepting care and depending upon someone else almost entirely later in life maybe when you’d like to be financially secure — as there are for the adult child in charge of their care” (retrieved from
  3. Do not forget about the benefits of this time with your loved one. Hollis Sawyer argues, “The bonding experience can create an intimacy that may not have been encountered when the adult child was going through their own mid-adult phase. Maybe hopefully, they are becoming closer to the parent” (retrieved from The gift of time is a powerful gift…you will never regret having more time with your loved one. 
  4. The caregiving process can be daunting at times. It is important to take time for self care…both parent and caregiver. Make sure that not all time is being spent on caregiving tasks…some time needs to be spent doing things you both enjoy as well. 

Concluding Thoughts

The role reversing that comes with your parents aging is stressful on all parties. Offer grace and compassion, and be ready to offer and receive assistance as needed. It is important to tend to the quality of your relationship during this difficult transition, so making sure that you are in a strong place physically and mentally as you do so will be critical.


Family Caregiver Alliance National Center for Caregiving. (2020). Support groups. Retrieved from

Hatfield, H. (2008). Role reversal: Caregiving for aging parents. Retrieved from

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