Elderly care: when crisis strikes

You need much more than calm to handle an emergency concerning your elderly family member: the knowledge of what to do and the support of all the members

boy taking of elderly in the hospitalConsider this: you are just walking into a room when you see your father half-sitting on his chair, trembling, sweating profusely, placing his hand on his chest, barely able to speak. What do you do? Or rather, do you know what is happening and what to do?

You may frantically rush to help him sit or lie down, call other family members, call your family doctor or look up in yellow pages for the ambulance number. Even worse, this may happen when you are at work and, if you are fortunate enough, your neighbours may take him to the hospital and inform you about it.

Then you may find yourself too stressed by handling several tasks at a time. Stress may be so intense that it ends up passing onto your ailing father and instead of feeling supported, he may feel like a burden on you. Remember, your actions affect the person you’re caring for.

Lone ranger

You may be the only person around your parents and caretaking lands squarely on your shoulders in an emergency medical condition like heart attack or an accident. Elderly care can be relatively time-energy-money consuming, particularly when compounded with childcare, household chores and work pressure. If you can relate to this, here are few things that you need to consider for your aging parents facing a health emergency.

At the hospital

When you have to rush to the hospital, there are a hundred-thousand worries going on in your mind.

Managing work: If you are working full-time and there is no extended support in the family, you may have to take leave from work for few days. It will help to arrange for full-time nursing care while you go back to work either full day or half day. If the nature of your work allows it, you may also work on your laptop after checking for permission from the hospital.

Involving family: Engage the entire family. This will take the stress off you. Your spouse or children can take turns at the hospital. In case your spouse works too, s/he may also follow a work arrangement similar to yours.

Managing meals: Most hospitals provide meals to the patients. Still, keep an eye on what they have on the menu. They may goof up by switching meals with someone else [it is not very uncommon even in big hospitals]. Also, your parent may or may not like the hospital food, which needs to be taken care of.

Tackling visitors: The ailing elderly should be comfortable with who is visiting and when. Too many visitors could be taking away their peace of mind. Communicate the visiting hours clearly to everyone and insist that they are respected.

Caring for their feelings: Exercise patience when handling paperwork. Simple remarks you make like, “it’s taking so much time to clear the bills” or “why should I pay for these, when the insurance claims for cashless facilities”? could be heard as ” I do not have time for my dad”, ” I do not wish to pay for my dad’s medicines”. Your ailing parent could feel hurt by such remarks. Keeping them entertained: Nothing is more boring than to lie on the hospital bed waiting for someone from the family to visit. And nothing is more frustrating than to see the attendants getting bored. Unless the condition is too critical, you can help your family senior pass time in hospital, by bringing them books to read, keeping them company or playing songs.

At home

Division of caretaking: An ill elderly requires full-time care. Problems arise when the majority of the care-taking duties fall on the shoulders of one person. And in 9 out of 10 families, this one person is the woman-in-charge. Generally, women tend to be disproportionately affected by this situation, irrespective of their employment status. To avoid conflicts, you need to sit down with your family and chalk out a routine that suits everyone best. Everyone needs to re-adjust their schedules and chip in. You can hire a full-time or half-time nurse, depending on how you can manage your office.

Medicines: Elderly people, who can no longer take care of themselves because of cognitive, sensory, and/or motor impairments, need extra help to take medicines. You may set up beepers that go off when it is time to take the medicines. If they can take medicines on their own, keep water and the tablets near their bedside. If not, the beeper can be a reminder to other members. Interiors: When you have a sick elderly in the house, you may have to provide certain facilities in their room. Like a night lamp for toilet trips, ringer-bells when they need to call someone [remember, they may be too weak to voice a call], a TV or radio for entertainment.

Very often, elderly people face incontinence during illnesses. Set them up in a room that has an attached toilet. If they have problems maintaining their balance, consider altering the interiors of their room by setting up pots especially designed for the elderly, which they can use on their own or installing railings for support. Bathroom accidents are very common and hence, it is important that the fixtures are appropriate to their condition.

Special food: Multi-morbidity [several impairments, disabilities] and poly-pharmacy [use of several drugs] often affects nutritional demands, appetite and/or taste buds. Palatability and satiation seem far-gone factors from the meals to ailing the elderly. Since they cannot eat large quantities at one go, they need to take small meals at frequent intervals. You and your spouse can share the duty of cooking for them and consider keeping a cook for few days for regular food for the rest of the family. Ensure they consume sufficient amount of fluids.Other things: Stick a list of emergency numbers and home delivery numbers in their room and in the kitchen. Keep neighbours informed about your parent’s condition.

Emotional support

Depression and anxiety are very common in elderly people who are going through health crisis. It is extremely important to understand their emotions during these difficult times. Looking after your ailing parents’ daily chores is not caring. It is the emotional support you provide them in these years that makes the difference. The two emotions of a caregiver are empathy and sympathy. The emotion of sympathy involves feeling sorry for your parent’s sufferings, whereas the emotion of empathy involves understanding their sufferings. To manage emotions and avoid conflicts in this difficult time, consider this: focus your energy on them and their needs and not on you and your own needs. The more you focus on yourself, the more resentment you will build up. Read them newspapers or magazines. Tell them what is happening in the house, at work, with children. Play cards with them. Invite their friends over.

Coping with terminal illness:If your elderly parent is facing a terminal illness, they will need all the emotional support you can provide them. In any case, do not hide the fact from them. You must let them know the true state of their health. Although they may put up a brave front, they may be experiencing intense inner turmoil due to the realisation of the approaching end of their lives. As a caregiver, you have to deal with your share of grief. But you must put their emotions above your own. Understand their sadness of having to leave you. Spend their last days with them.

Aanchal Agrawal
Aanchal Agrawal is a mother, a psychotherapist, and a special educator. She is a gold medallist in psychology from Benaras Hindu University. She is interested in removing taboos regarding mental illness and aims to spread awareness about child development.


  1. It is quite difficult to take care of elderly more so if it is in unexpected situation.The worse thing is when one is caught with no help from the immediate family and financial instability on the part of the caregiver or family member left to take care of ill relative. The situation is different in other places like those in some Asian countries where family play the biggest role and taking care of elderly is not a burden.


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