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Why You May Feel Trapped Caring For An Elderly Parent

Why You May Feel Trapped Caring For An Elderly Parent

April 11, 2024

Caring for an elderly parent can be one of the most challenging and emotionally draining experiences a person can face. While the desire to provide love and support to our aging loved ones is often deeply ingrained, the reality of the caregiving journey can sometimes leave individuals feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Caregiver burnout is a real thing that some experience, and the causes of these feelings can come from many different places.

What Causes These Feelings?

One thing to know is that at a certain point, everyone experiences these feelings to some level. As aging is just a natural part of life, you will typically see your parents age and lose some of their ability to care for themself. The range of emotions you feel during this time can seem vast and be caused by a variety of factors.

Role Reversal

One of the most difficult aspects of caring for an elderly parent is the reversal of roles that often occurs. As children, we grow up relying on our parents for guidance, support, and car. However, as our parents age and their health declines, the dynamic shifts, and we find ourselves in the role of caregiver. This sudden shift can be disorienting and emotionally challenging, as we navigate the complex emotions associated with caring for the people who once cared for us.

Loss of Independence 

Caring for an elderly parent often requires a significant amount of time and energy, which can leave caregivers feeling like they have little time for themselves. You may even be someone who is retired and feel that this is cutting time from your “best years” or a time you’ve been waiting for. Balancing caregiving responsibilities with work, family, and personal needs can feel like an impossible juggling act, leading to a sense of loss of independence and freedom. This loss of autonomy can be particularly difficult for individuals who are used to leading busy, independent lives, or enjoying the years they feel they worked their whole life to obtain.

Financial Strain 

The financial costs associated with caring for an elderly parent can also contribute to feelings of being trapped. From medical expenses to home modifications to the potential loss of income if caregiving requires reducing work hours or leaving a job entirely, the financial burden of caregiving can be significant. This can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration, especially if caregivers feel like they are sacrificing their own financial security for the sake of their parent's care.

Emotional Guilt 

Many caregivers experience feelings of guilt and obligation when it comes to caring for an elderly parent. They may feel guilty for wanting time away from their caregiving responsibilities or for experiencing negative emotions such as anger or frustration. This emotional guilt can be incredibly isolating, as caregivers may feel like they have to hide their true feelings for fear of being judged or criticized by others.

Lack of Support

Caring for an elderly parent can be an incredibly isolating experience, particularly if you lack a strong support system or don’t have other close family to help balance the workload. Without friends, family members, or community resources to lean on, caregivers may feel like they are navigating the caregiving journey alone. This lack of support can exacerbate feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, making it even more difficult to cope with the challenges of caregiving.

Health Concerns

The physical and emotional demands of caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver's health, leading to increased stress, exhaustion, and burnout. Caregivers may neglect their own health needs in favor of prioritizing their parent's care, leading to the development of chronic health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. This can create a vicious cycle of declining health and increased caregiving responsibilities, further contributing to feelings of being trapped. Dementia is one of those health concerns that can seem daunting to care for. If you need support specifically with caring for your parent with dementia, learn more about Tembo Health.

Uncertain Future

Finally, the uncertainty of the future can also contribute to feelings of being trapped when caring for an elderly parent. As our parents age and their health declines, we may be faced with difficult decisions about their care, such as whether to pursue long-term care options, how to manage their finances, and what to do if their condition worsens. These decisions can feel overwhelming and daunting, leaving caregivers feeling paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. 

How Can You Navigate These Feelings?

While caring for an elderly parent can be incredibly challenging, it's important to remember that you are not alone. There are resources and support available to help you navigate the complexities of caregiving and cope with the emotions that arise along the way. Here are some strategies for coping with feelings of being trapped when caring for an elderly parent:

Seek Support

Reach out to friends, family members, or support groups who can offer emotional support and practical advice. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences can help you feel less alone and more understood.

If you’re looking for support navigating the medical side of things, Tembo Health can help. Tembo Health helps caregivers navigate the daily struggles and hurdles you face as a caregiver with their team of experts. You are assigned a care navigator, who is there to support you through this difficult time.

If you're struggling to cope with the emotional or mental challenges of caregiving, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who specializes in caregiving issues. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore your feelings and develop coping strategies.

Educate Yourself

Take the time to educate yourself about your parent's condition and available resources. Knowledge is power, and being informed can help you make informed decisions about their care and advocate for their needs effectively.

Respite care services provide temporary relief for caregivers by offering professional care for their loved one. Take advantage of these services to give yourself a break and prevent burnout.

Set Boundaries

It's important to establish clear boundaries and communicate your needs with your parent and other family members. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do, and don't be afraid to say no when you need to prioritize your own well-being.

Remember to prioritize your own health and well-being. Make time for self-care activities that help you relax and recharge, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.

Practice Self-Compassion

It's easy to be hard on yourself when you're feeling overwhelmed or frustrated with the caregiving responsibilities. However, practicing self-compassion can help you navigate these difficult emotions with more kindness and understanding. Remind yourself that it's okay to feel stressed or overwhelmed, and treat yourself with the same level of care and compassion that you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help you stay grounded and present in the moment, even during the most stressful times. Take a few moments each day to pause, breathe, and connect with yourself, allowing yourself to let go of worries about the past or future, and focus on the present moment.

Communicate Openly

Effective communication is key to navigating the challenges of caregiving. Be open and honest with your parent about your feelings and limitations, and encourage them to do the same. Having open, honest conversations can help alleviate tension and misunderstandings, and strengthen your relationship with your parent.

Set Realistic Expectations

It's important to set realistic expectations for yourself and your parent when it comes to caregiving. Understand that you can't do everything, and that it's okay to ask for help when you need it. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day, and don't be afraid to adjust your expectations as needed.

Caregiving can often feel like an uphill battle with no end in sight. However, it's important to celebrate the small victories along the way, no matter how insignificant they may seem. Whether it's a good day with your parent, a successful doctor's appointment, or simply getting through a challenging day with grace and patience, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate these accomplishments.

Find Meaning in Your Role

While caregiving can be incredibly challenging, it can also be deeply meaningful and rewarding. Take the time to reflect on the positive aspects of your caregiving journey, and find meaning and purpose in the role you play in your parent's life. Whether it's providing comfort, companionship, or simply being there for your parent when they need you most, remind yourself of the important impact you're making in their life.

Despite the challenges of caregiving, it's important to find moments of joy and laughter along the way. Whether it's sharing a funny story with your parent, enjoying a favorite activity together, or simply appreciating the beauty of a quiet moment spent together, find joy in the small moments that bring light to your caregiving journey.

When you're feeling overwhelmed or trapped in your caregiving role, take a step back and remind yourself why you chose to take on this responsibility in the first place. Whether it's out of love for your parent, a sense of duty, or a desire to repay the care and support they provided you throughout your life, reconnecting with your why can help reignite your sense of purpose and motivation.


Caring for an elderly parent can be an emotionally challenging experience that can leave caregivers feeling trapped and overwhelmed. From the reversal of roles to financial strain to lack of support, there are many factors that can contribute to these feelings. However, it's important to remember that you are not alone, and there are resources and support available to help you navigate the complexities of caregiving. By seeking support, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and exploring respite care options, you can better cope with the challenges of caregiving and find moments of joy and fulfillment in your journey. If you’re looking for support to combat these feelings of being trapped, Tembo Health may be the solution you need.

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