The Role of an Only Child as a Caregiver
young woman looking at the map of her life with a road before her

I was recently doing an interview on caregiving and was asked about my preparations. I am a parent of an only child. I confess to feeling guilty about that. I don’t want her to take on the burden of being a caregiver for her parents on her own. So there are some preparations in place.

How can only children approach caregiving in a thoughtful way that supports them and their loved ones needing the care? Here are some helpful tips:

1. Only Does Not Mean Alone

In my daughter’s case I have already spoken to her cousins who live locally and have already happily agreed to support her when needed. We have created a community of friends who are like family who would step up to offer help. In addition we have an incredible community of neighbors who pitch in to help elderly neighbors and their families. I also feel strongly that she should not be my only caregiver. I will be happy to have healthcare professionals come in to assist my husband and I in any ways that are needed. Also when you assume the role of caregiver the children can help when appropriate.

2. Have Your Roadmap Ready

A roadmap is a collection of legal documents and information on insurance coverage and assets. My father gave this gift to me as his caregiver and it was incredibly helpful for me in that role. Legal documents include the Medical Power of Attorney. This is a legal document that designates a person you have selected to make decisions about your medical care when you are unable. A Living Will is also called a healthcare directive. It gives specific information regarding your wishes on what type of medical intervention you want implemented if you are unable to designate it.

A Power of Attorney designates the individual you want to manage your finances if you are unable. The adult only child should also be aware of available financial resources,
assets, and insurance, in case additional levels of care are needed. If a spouse is not available as a caregiver the adult only child may need to step into this role. That person should
be aware of all of this information. In addition you need to know where the information is kept and have access to it. You don’t want to be in the middle of a medical crisis and be running around trying to figure out where this information is. Keep it current too. Revisit it as life circumstances change, (like divorce or death) to make sure the content is still what everyone understands and agrees on.

3. Identify Resources

There are lots of resources available today if you know where to look for them. One place to start is with a geriatric care manager. A geriatric care manager has expertise on aging and elder care needs. That person can come in and do an assessment to help the only child caregiver understand what type of care is needed and where to find it. They are there to support the caregiver and care recipient. They will continue to work with you as you need it. You can find your local geriatric care manager by placing a zip code in on this site: Aging Life Care

There are also numerous sites on the internet that offer extensive support. There are chat rooms where you can directly speak with other caregivers to get support and tips on how to handle specific caregiver challenges. They also have articles with a wealth of information on a variety of topics related to caregiving. In addition locally there are support groups you can attend to connect with other caregivers sharing experience, information, resources, and getting validation
for how you are feeling. Examples of websites that offer information include Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, AARP Family Caregiving Site, and here on The Caregiver Space.

One of the most common and challenging aspects of caregiving is when adult siblings argue and create conflict about who is going to pitch in and help and how. This can create such conflict and permanently damage relationships. Adult only children don’t have to contend with this dilemma. Instead they can create and build their own support network to help them through this ultimate role reversal.

Written by Iris Waichler
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 5 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years. Find out more at her website

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