Asking Our Elderly Parents for Help Can Be a Huge Gift to Them


I hate doing dishes but my elderly mother loves to AND she loves to feel needed - a win win for our Sandwich Generation family

by Kaye Swain

I love to feel needed, don't you? One of the big issues for many of our aging parents is that, due to health problems, memory issues, and generation aging, they aren't always able to do as much as they used to. This can leave them feeling very UNneeded, which can lead to depression.

I was reminded of this recently when chatting with other caregivers and realized I needed to be more proactive at finding ways to engage my senior mom with helping me, even if I didn't necessarily "need" it. This is something she truly desires and something my independent self tends to forget!

After racking my brains, I put together some ideas for her that might help you as well:

  • Wash and dry dishes - instead of automatically putting them in the dishwasher when we finish eating, it might work well to put them in the sink for them to load the dishwasher or, as my mom prefers, hand wash them.
  • Fold laundry
  • Mail coloring pages and letters to grandkids - we go shopping at the Dollar Store and Walmart and my mom has such fun picking out coloring books, activity sheets, and stickers and mailing them along with little notes to her great-grandkids. I've gotten in the habit of bringing home extra ones to encourage her to do it even more often. She loves doing it, they thrill to all the extra mail, their mom appreciates the peace and quiet as they work on all the pretty pages, and all of these delightful activities are "growing" such sweet and special family memories from this simple little tradition.
  • If your aging parents like to garden, ask them to plant a couple of things for you. They'll love spending the time working on a gift for you and you'll enjoy the tasty treats that hopefully the plants will produce. (Be sure to take photos of the process every few days. I add those to my senior mom's iPad and she gets to enjoy her garden again in the winter in between reading gardening books and magazines.)
  • Wrap gifts. You may be able to wrap them faster and better - but they may thoroughly enjoy the process as well as getting to be a help to you at busy holiday and birthday times.
  • Ask them to call the long distance relatives and grandkids periodically and say hellos for you AND them.
  • Give them all your old photos to sort and organize into folders. Not only can this be a big help for you, they will enjoy seeing all the pictures. (Hmmmm, I need to do this one ASAP!)
  • Need ironing done? Do they enjoy ironing like my senior mom does? A win win for both of you!
  • If they are still able to sew, see if they would like to hem your pants or sew buttons on. Or if they are good at crocheting and knitting, ask them to make simple projects - for yourself or to donate to the many places that really need simple blankets, hats etc. - like hospitals, police departments, etc.

Mind you, I've generally done all of these projects and chores myself. But as caregiving duties increase, not all of them get done in a timely manner. Delegating simple items to our senior parents can be a big help to us. Even more important, they can be a big spirit-lifter to them. And even if it doesn't get done the way we normally do it, or needs to be surreptitiously re-done later, the smiles on their faces at being useful are well worth it. Do you have any more suggestions? We'd love to hear them.

Kaye Swain is a member of the Sandwich Generation dealing with the issues of caring for the elderly parents and relatives in her family while also babysitting grandchildren. She enjoys writing on those topics at SandwichINK, in order to provide other multigenerational caregivers with useful information, resources and encouragement.