How do I Care for My Elderly & Terminally Ill Parent at Home?

Updated February 21, 2017

When your parent is terminally ill, she may decide that she doesn't want to die in a hospital or a nursing home. She'd rather die at home. Unfortunately, the care she needs may be challenging for all of the family members involved. In many situations, you may be able to provide end-of-life care for your parent at home, but it requires you to become very organised. Work with your parent, her doctor and medical aides and other family members to provide the best care that you can.

Research your options for hospice care. Many insurance companies, including Medicare, allow elderly and terminally ill patients to receive care at home. This may include special equipment--such as a hospital bed--and regular visits by a nurse.

Create a schedule for all of the people involved in caring for your parent. Work in shifts, dividing up the time as evenly as possible. Someone who doesn't have a job may need to take longer shifts than someone who does. Write the schedule out on a whiteboard to avoid confusion.

Talk to your employer about taking leave from work. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, you are entitled to take time off to care for a sick parent. Your employer will hold your job, but you will not receive your salary during this time.

Make your parent as comfortable as possible. A terminally ill parent may be uncomfortable with pain from the illness or just being confined to the home. Give him pain medication as prescribed and purchase items that can make him more comfortable, such as a wedge to lift the bed into a reclining position.

Spend as much quality time with your parent as possible. You don't know how much longer you'll have, so spend the time that you do have with her.

Break the rules. When your parent has only a few days left to live, it's often OK to go against some of the doctor's orders. For example, if he wants a beer or a hamburger, give them to him, even though it may not be the healthiest choice. Little things like that are why it's more comfortable to die at home.

Prepare yourself for hard times. It isn't easy to watch and help someone die. He may have periods of dementia and may lose control of his body. You may have to help him into his bed, give him a sponge bath or empty his catheter bag--all things which you never thought of doing when he was strong.


You can save on the cost of hospice care by requesting nurses only a few times a day or week and providing care for your parent yourself the rest of the time. 24-hour hospice care is costly.

Things You'll Need

  • Whiteboard
  • Notebook
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About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.