Ways to define your role helping the older adult


Solutions to find your best way to help the older adult include:

  • Matching needs with skills

  • Getting training and support

  • Setting realistic goals

  • Finding meaning in helping

Matching needs with skills

How you help the older adult can change over time. Family and friends often help older adults with:

  • Laundry, cleaning and other tasks around the home

  • Grocery shopping and other errands around town

  • Emotional support, especially during problems or conflicts

  • Information about resources and options

  • Medications, medical appointments and other health needs

  • Paying bills, tracking finances and financial decisions

  • Meals, bathing, dressing and other daily needs

As you look at the above list and think about the older adult’s needs, ask yourself:

  • What would I enjoy doing?

  • What would I feel comfortable doing?

  • What have I done before?

  • What is related to my education, training or work experience?

  • What is a good fit for other family or friends who are helping the older adult?

  • What would I want training or support for?

Getting training and support

Videos, guides, presentations, workshops and one-on-one training sessions can walk you through different ways to help the older adult.


Contact trusted organizations to ask about training resources on different topics.

  • For health or daily needs, contact the older adult’s health professionals, caregiver support groups, groups focused on specific conditions like the Alzheimer’s Association or American Cancer Society, or local departments of health or human services.

  • For financial or legal tasks, contact the older adult’s financial institution, Legal Services Corporation, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, U.S. Administration on Aging’s Pension Counseling and Information Program, or elder benefits specialists with the local Aging Unit or Aging and Disability Resource Center.

  • For household or transportation tasks, contact the local transit agency, Senior Center, Aging Unit, Aging and Disability Resource Center or Area Agency on Aging.

  • For more general information, contact local or state organizations that work with the National Family Caregiver Support Program; local organizations that offer Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes; local geriatric social workers or case managers; or national organizations like the Caregiver Action Network or Family Caregiver Alliance.

Setting realistic goals


Break larger tasks down into smaller steps. Make “to do” lists that you can reasonably get through in a day or two. Ask other people for help. Discuss what paid help the older adult’s insurance, benefits or budget, or local services, might cover.


Focus your time on what’s most important. Ask the older adult:

  • Is there anything that you want taken care of right away?

  • Is there anything that you want me to prioritize?

  • What do you want to get done this week?

  • What do you want my help with?

  • What can other people help you with?

  • Do you want me to ask family or friends to help out?

  • What can we take care of next week? Next month?

Set your own realistic goals for self-care, like:

  • Taking a few minutes each day to relax

  • Appreciating when something goes well

  • Asking for advice or help

  • Saying no to doing more, when you feel stressed

  • Allowing yourself to feel sad or angry

  • Feeling good about how you help the older adult

Write down your goals. Think about what meeting them will look like for you. For example, you could take five minutes to sit and relax as you drink your morning coffee.


When you meet a goal, congratulate yourself. If something gets in the way, that’s okay. You can try again tomorrow.


Finding meaning in helping

Think about how you help the older adult.

  • How do your personality and values shape how you help the older adult?

  • Ten years from now, what do you most want to say about how you helped the older adult?

  • What have you learned about yourself?

  • What have you learned about the older adult?

  • What will you do differently, because you’ve shared these experiences with the older adult?

Think about your relationship with the older adult. How has it changed over time? How does your helping the older adult fit into the picture?