Communication Plan: We can avoid stress by setting up an on-going communication plan with our siblings to keep everyone in the loop and agree to decisions to provide as one united front to parents. Weekly emails worked for me and my family but mostly because I’m a writer and 11 pm is when I was getting around to sending updates. For some, a regular zoom call works. For others, they want the info when decisions need to be made, no time to read constant updates. Just remember, what happens to your parents if you’re the only one with the info and something happens to you? I was diagnosed with cancer while caring for my parents. I never worried that my surgery or potential blindness would leave my parents without care. And I knew that my siblings had updated details to fill in for me at the doctor’s offices with my parents.

With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Caring for elderly or aging parents can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress when caring for our aging parents? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Fern Pessin.

Fern Pessin left the cold weather of NYC to move to Boca Raton, Florida in 2016 to care for her aging parents. Her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and her mother was a bone cancer survivor. Fern used her experiences, research, and interviews with experts to create I’ll Be Right There: A Guidebook for Adults Caring for Their Aging Parents, with tips, resources, and worksheets, for fellow caregivers to help reduce stress and allow to caregivers to avoid stressful emergencies needing urgent resolutions. When Can We Talk? A Guidebook for Caregivers Handling Discussions on Difficult Topics came next to help caregivers have peaceful conversations that come to resolutions with family.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

I left my consulting business in New York to move to Florida when my father’s Alzheimer’s was showing up more often and they couldn’t be snowbirds anymore. I figured one of their children should be there for them and I was the most logical one. No kids, no brick and mortar business. Plus, I’d rather have palm trees and a water view than snow.

I think I’m typical of most caregivers. We’re the ones who, by nature, are nurturing or we’re the oldest, or we’re the only child, or we can best manage the schedule. I don’t think I’m inspiring or remarkable that way. But I am a writer and an event planner and fundraiser for non-profits so I used all those skills to learn everything I could and put it into binders for myself. Those binders became my caregiving bible.

When people kept asking me for the “list” when I’d have answers to every question they tossed my way, whether we met sitting next to each other with nails drying, or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office with our parents, I realized that most people didn’t have time to do what I did. I attended every senior fair, every Alzheimer’s community education event, went to the Memory Care Center near me which was attached to a nursing school at FAU [university] and went through a Home Health Aide certification course. That was time consuming and needed to be done while mom and dad were still relatively independent. The contents of what I learned, added to stories about my family, then supplemented with stories from my caregiving support group fellow participants, and talking to lawyers, doctors, aides, and financial people helped me offer expert advice and additional stories in the book that became “I’ll Be Right There: A Guidebook for Adults Caring for Their Aging Parents”.

The part of that book I got the most questions on was not the safety assessment for the home or how to collect the legal and financial data or even what to do when your parents can’t walk anymore type questions. People wanted to know how to have their parents stop driving, or they needed to move a loved one to a safer community without stairs or bathtubs. Caregivers literally cried on my shoulder because they’d gotten into fights with siblings about caregiving decisions and no one was talking to each other anymore. So that became the second book, “When Can We Talk? A Guidebook for Caregivers Holding Discussions Around Difficult Topics.” How you say something is much more important than what you say. When, and where you present your thoughts and how often you bring the topic up is critical to creating collaboration and teamwork vs. conflict. I love helping people get through those rough patches in a way that feels empowering with resolutions and no tears or yelling!

I spent time mediating a conversation between a busy, prominent financial executive and her sister who lived closer to their mother. They were fighting and couldn’t agree on any decisions when it came to their mom and their mother had her own separate thoughts about what she would and would not do. Quickly I realized that both siblings were trying to do the same things and no one was handling a whole bunch of other important stuff. We came up with a delegation plan and each sister had their own area of responsibility. Moving their mother out of her home was something their mother was not open to. So we discussed having a trained service dog in the house who could detect if their mom was about to have a diabetic episode. The dog was trained to get insulin, call for help from neighbors, warn their mother to take her meds, and more. The dog also solved the problem of mom not getting enough exercise or leaving the house. In the end, the resolution was peaceful and the sisters began to get along as a team to help their mom.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

You cannot do this all yourself! Ask for help.

Give yourself a break every week! Do something just for you.

You are NOT superwoman and no one else expects you to be!

Create your care team and volunteer village as soon as possible so they’re there when you need them.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

I honor my father for knowing that his Alzheimer’s was going to get worse and he took action. He took me under his wing and made sure that I knew everything he wanted me to do with his assets and how to care for my mom when he wasn’t able to anymore. I never felt “what would dad want me to do?” My decision-making moments were so much easier. Knowing what he wanted made me realize I needed to know what mom wanted, so I asked; and then I wanted them to know what I wanted in case something happened to me, so I wrote that up. That is the key learning I take away from all this. Ask. Share. Don’t leave your family guessing.

Knowing that Dad was “button popping” proud of me, as he said, at the launch event for my “I’ll Be Right There” guidebook was one of the proudest times in my life. My dad was always the person I talked to about business advice. He and I worked together for years. We had Friday night cocktails listening to Rat Pack music together since I was a little girl while everyone else was busy around the house. So having him proud of me as a parental caregiver and then as an author will always be in the Top 5 Life Event things.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

I just finished “The Caregiver Gap Year: 12 Months to Grow, Assess, and Experience all Possibilities After Caregiving Ends”. It’s a book/manual and is being developed into a 12-week online course. There will be a live version delivered at fitness facilities along with a fitness challenge program to reboot one’s physical health. As I have been moving into my own life following a fight against a rare eye cancer, I have explored so many parts of my very being and people told me I should write it down, tell them how to do it too, so that’s what I did.

I think that after we lose the loved ones we’ve been caring for, much like after kids leave the home to go out on their own, there’s an empty feeling. We feel like we’ve lost our purpose. We have all these blocks of time we’d allocated for someone else’s needs… what do we do with all that? I always thought that if we can take a gap year after high school before college and after college before starting to work forevermore, why not, at this point in our lives, reevaluate ourselves again and put our lives and schedule back together with our optimal life in mind? Wouldn’t that be ideal? It’s what I’m doing for myself. I’ve done research and engaged other experts and now I want to invite my fellow caregivers to join me and reboot themselves.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

In general stress is a physical reaction to outside influences. My stress is visceral. I can sense it in every part of my body, mind, and spirit. When you’re a caregiver for someone you love, it is not just the physical duties that are challenging (though lifting someone in and out of a bath or off the toilet and feeding someone who doesn’t want to eat can be stressful for sure), but more it’s all the emotional connections that are attached to the relationship that make it exhausting and stressful. When your mother was always your best friend and now she’s hitting you or snapping at you, it hurts in your very soul. When your spouse has always been kind and patient and is suddenly barking commands or wants to walk in the street naked or is reorganizing the shoes in your closet every day until you think you’ll go mad… this is a challenge to your essence. When you are taking care of someone who is kind now but abused you as a child, that needs adjustments in your mental preparation before walking into that room and after you leave. Because it’s not just who they are to you, but you question who you are now because the relationship is changing every day. That’s stressful.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

We don’t ask for help. I had, probably I still do a little, Superwoman/Superman syndrome. We think we need to do this ourselves. It’s some obligation in our minds to be able to manage it all. With kids, they start little and get smarter and can do more and more. When we’re dealing with our elders, our parents especially, they are supposed to be the ones with the answers and instead they are reverting backwards and needing more and more from us to just make it through the day safely. Little kids fall and get up. Elderly famously (as the tv commercial says) “fall and can’t get up”. They fracture a hip or elbow so easily. They can’t see and stumble when they can’t lift their feet. Or they mix up their numbers and can’t balance a checkbook anymore or use tech to pay bills themselves. We’re frustrated. They’re grown-ups! I can have patience of a saint with a stranger who is moving like a snail down the hallway behind their walker. When my mother does it, I am running in front mentally pulling her along, standing at the elevator foot tapping, I “know” she’s doing this to annoy me and that she can move more quickly… I just KNOW.

The other part of this superman thing is that we know we can fix this, that, anything. “Give me your phone and I’ll just do it for you.” I see this all the time. Young people who have agile fingers just grab the phone and solve the problem. The issue is that the elder person now feels emasculated. We can make the appointments, drive the car, order the Ubers, pay the bills online….so just let us do it! Right? But that’s not good for our parents. They need to feel independent and the more dependent we make them feel, the less they want to be around us. The more agitated they get. And you’re not helping them keep their cognitive functioning. So… I’m stressed. They’re stressed. People around us can feel the stress. Hence, a stressful world. One in four adults is caregiving around the world. That’s a lot of stress out there. I believe that when we accept and let go of our need to “get it done” for them, faster, better… less stress for all.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

People under stress can have short term or long term effects. When someone yells “boo” from around the corner in a dark room, your heart rate may zoom up, adrenaline kicks in and you react. Your body wants protection. However, when you are stressed extensively and don’t come out of that stress mode, your body reacts with various signs of discomfort. You might have headaches, feel antsy, become tired easily, muscles might feel tight, stomach may be upset, and you might either sleep a lot or not at all. The reaction to all this stress, can be to resort to comfort behaviors like eating unhealthy foods, or having one or many drinks or narcotics, smoking a cigarette. It might inspire you to reach out for sex or have you withdraw from touch and intimacy. You might avoid people or want to go “blow off steam” and dance all night. But when you keep this up, your heart and brain never get to relax and that can cause long term health complications and lead to chronic diseases.

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Back in the caveman days, when something stressed you out it usually was an animal or person coming to attack you. So stress releases all that cortisol which preps you for fight or flight. If you’ve got to outrun a bully with a club, you’re happy to have that boost of adrenaline to get you out of there faster! If rock falls on you while you’re hiking, you want that extra stress strength to push the rock off you, even if normally you’d never be able to lift it. If you’re winning an award and have to make a speech, the stress in your system projects you as having energy and being “alive” to the audience and your brain is super sharply focused and able to get through your speech without getting sick (or is that just me?)

Let’s now focus more on the stress of caring for elderly or aging parents. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate a few reasons why caring for our aging parents can be so stressful?

Sure! Caring for parents, as I said earlier, is not just physical but emotional too. When your parents reject your attempts to prevent future issues it can bring on feelings of frustration, possibly anger, some resentment might surface. These are not good things to feel and don’t play well with your body. If I see that you park your car in 1.5 parking places instead of centered in one spot, I start thinking, “if she can’t see the lines in the parking lot, can she see the lines on the roadway or the sidewalks? Will she hit someone because she doesn’t see him?” If you’ve got stains on your clothing and you’ve always been meticulous, I might want to get you to an eye doctor to see what else you’re not seeing. Are you showing signs of macular degeneration or in need of glaucoma, cataract or other surgery? Or new prescription? If you’ve fallen several times and you live in a home with ceramic tile floors, I might feel you’d be safer in a residence with carpet or floors that have give — like wood. You might trip if I bring in carpet so I might think moving you would be a better idea. But here’s the thing… new is very frightening as you age. I want everything where I know it is supposed to be. I don’t want to learn new people, new directions, new appliances, a new neighborhood. I don’t want to go where I will need new doctors. These are all things that could bring on cognitive decline if they’re attached to so much stress.

Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Stress When Caring For Your Elderly Or Aging Parents”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

The stress that we as adults caring for our aging parents feel is related to control. We cannot control our parents and their environment. And though most of us would like to bubble wrap our loved ones and secure them in a rubberized room to make sure they don’t break any bones or contract any illnesses or get insulted by insensitive people when we’re not around, hah, (wouldn’t that be fun?), but we can’t.

We cannot control our parent’s decisions and choices, much as we would like to, because we feel like maybe we know what’s best for them. What we actually know is what we think is best for them based on our own circumstances.

Another stressor is that we will do the “wrong” thing. When a loved one can no longer communicate but is still living and breathing, we fear that decisions we make will not be what our loved one wanted, but since we never asked, or they never told us, we do the best we can while stressing all the time. My friend paid $13,000 for a funeral he couldn’t afford because of shifty funeral home manipulations. Then, a few months later, when his grieving abated enough for him to go start cleaning out his dad’s home, he found a pre-paid cremation! Not only did he pay for something he didn’t need to, but he didn’t do what his father would have preferred. The guilt he felt was enormous. He felt he disappointed his father. But what was he going to do, dig up his father now?

If there are siblings all wanting to be involved in caring for our mutual parents, there may be fighting and disagreements. That’s no fun. When parents see their kids arguing, and each child brings their opinions, the parents feel like any decision they make will show favoritism and that can feel hurtful to the other children. Worrying about communicating and negotiating with siblings can be stressful. But, equally stressful, is when one or more siblings pull away, do nothing, and then show up and want to enforce a financial, legal, logistical, or health decision because of their status as the oldest/most affluent/closest by.

Imagine that you are at work, about to be on a major business call and you get a call that your dad has fallen and was taken to the hospital. The hospital wants the insurance information because your dad is unconscious. How stressed are you if you don’t have that information handy? Then a few weeks later, dad is getting stronger, and is being released to physical therapy. You have five hours before he’s released and if you don’t give them the name of your preferred therapy place, they’re sending him to the one they use most often. Is that new place even in your dad’s insurance plan? Does his doctor work with that place? You’re going to start researching that now? And then dad is heading home and will need a hospital bed, aides to keep his catheter clean, and he needs a walker. So you’re going to first start looking for an agency for help, interviewing people, finding a medical rental place and getting someone to the house to let them in because dad is not that coherent at the moment. Talk about stress!

Add to that the fact that dad has not been home in three weeks and will be in rehab for another three weeks. Who’s taking care of the home? How are bills being paid? Are his favorite plants being watered? Has the cat been fed? Someone has to take care of these things. Do you have your resource list to help with that? If so, you’re not stressing right at this point. If not, I bet you’re figuring out how take time off from work or get someone you trust to be there for your dad.

What we can do to reduce our own stress is to plan, over time, when we’re not stressed, for the what if’s. You never know because, as our elder lawyer told me, “it never happens, until it does”. Knowing where all the information is will greatly reduce stress and anxiety. Consider the following:

  1. Proactive Data Collection: Be proactive in gathering what we need to be ready to jump in and help. Do this while you have a weekend to relax and do this. Or do this while you’re watching television at night. Not when you need to have the answers in your hand at the moment. You may know that your parents have paperwork for a Will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, etc. but do you know where those documents are? You need to know if they have a long-term care policy, pre-paid burial plans, or life insurance, home insurance, AAA insurance in case of accident. What are their health insurance plans and where do they keep the cards? What is their health background? Who are their doctors and how can you contact them? Where are the home and car ownership or lease documents? What about banking and credit cards? You don’t need the details (in case they push you away) but you need them to write it all down or collect it all in one place and put it somewhere you can find in case they can’t communicate. Remember Covid and so many people being intubated? What about a stroke?
  2. Research: We can coach our parents on decision making by doing research to detail all the options and the pro/con of each. Whether it’s about moving to a safer residence (Can’t climb in and out of tub anymore? Cooking can cause a fire because of forgetfulness?) or ceasing to drive or filing for Medicaid or bringing in a home aide or companion… none of this is easy and requires consistent low-level evidence sprinkled within regular conversation over time until it is your parents’ decision. You’re just ready with the options and your recommendations once their decision is made to look at new opportunities. If they can’t or won’t make a decision, at least you’re prepared to make an educated choice and/or discuss with your siblings for mutual decision agreement.
  3. Five Wishes: We can find out what our parent’s wishes are for long term illness and end-of-life care. We can then reassure them that once we know what they want, we will be better able to accommodate those wishes when the time comes. Would they want to be at home or in the hospital if a choice can be made? What makes them comfortable — music, books, blanket/pillow from home, specific sweater, a fragrance, certain guests ‘yes’ and other’s ‘no’, grooming before visitors? Pets okay to visit? Fresh plant preferred or a view? Do they want a burial or cremation? Who should be notified and/or invited to a memorial? Is there anything they want you to read to the people who come to show respects? Where would they like their belongings to go? Is there a charity they prefer? Check out to download a document that frames these questions for you to gather the information. If you and your siblings all fill this out with your parents, it will be less confrontational and more about the family supporting each other. You’ll want it for your kids anyway, right?
  4. Build Your Village: We can create a Care Team, a “village”, around our parents so there are people always watching out for our loved ones even when we can’t be, and professionals available in urgent situations to resolve issues before they become hazardous to one’s finances, health, legal status, or emotional well-being. Create a list of the people you need, interview them, have their contact information in a handy place — perhaps a spreadsheet or in a contact app on your devices. You can share this list with your siblings and each of you can update it. Need a plumber because mom’s pipes burst… check under “Plumber, Mom’s” in your contact list. Need a hospital bed delivered, having the medical rental place in your contacts will help that be an easy thing. A lawyer, financial advisor, doctors, home health agency, go on the lists. What about pet care people or lawn care? Is there a neighbor with a key that can go check upon a phone call? One that would call to tell you that there’s been less activity and they’re worried? Do you have people to stop by and keep your loved one company — watch a movie, drop off a meal, play a game of cards? Loneliness is leading cause of depression which leads to other physical and emotional health problems.
  5. Communication Plan: We can avoid stress by setting up an on-going communication plan with our siblings to keep everyone in the loop and agree to decisions to provide as one united front to parents. Weekly emails worked for me and my family but mostly because I’m a writer and 11 pm is when I was getting around to sending updates. For some, a regular zoom call works. For others, they want the info when decisions need to be made, no time to read constant updates. Just remember, what happens to your parents if you’re the only one with the info and something happens to you? I was diagnosed with cancer while caring for my parents. I never worried that my surgery or potential blindness would leave my parents without care. And I knew that my siblings had updated details to fill in for me at the doctor’s offices with my parents.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

Marie Kondo’s book on decluttering helped me reduce stress in my physical space which helps my mental space stay uncluttered too.

Robert Pardi’s, Possibility in Action, inspired my Caregiver Gap Year program (12 months to Grow, Aspire and Explore All Possibilities!). His LinkedIn video postings, he calls them musings, helps me set intentions beyond a to do list. Gives me things to thing about for improving my daily life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

  1. CarePooling our loved one’s care. If we had a network of people that also were caregivers, we could help each other out. Add my list to the errands you’re already running — adding my groceries to your list, picking up my Rx with yours, next week I’ll do some things for you. I’ll take both our parents to adult day care today and you pick them both up later. Sharing a home aide or companion who can split time between both (or multiple) homes so the aide has hours for a full time job and we each have part time expense and coverage. I’ll watch both our parents while they’re watching a movie and eating at snack trays today and you can do that with them next week. We do it with young children and babysitters, why not with our parents? Socialization is important for aging adults too.
  2. Urban Villa Living — My friend lost her mother and was devastated. After caring for her parents for a total of about 20 years, having her mother living with her for the last 11 years of her mother’s life, there was a sudden emptiness and lack of daily routine that nearly killed her. I hear this all the time. In this case, I moved in after the loss of my dad and now we’re creating my vision of a place for caregivers to live after caregiving ends. We will have one main house, and I will have a tiny home, a couple will have another tiny home, we have a handyman guy who will have his space, and another single female will have her tiny home. I already have a list of people who want to do the same in property on either side of us! We aim to live ecologically, sustainably as self-sufficient as possible, to keep our costs low so we can enjoy life and not worry about money. We’ll grow vegetables and have a beehive for honey. We’ll have chickens for eggs. A gazebo for community gatherings. A shared office to do our work so we have separation of work and me-time. We want other people around but don’t want to live in a place where meals and activities are planned for us. If we need help, it’s right there. We want to travel and not worry about who is going to watch our homes. We want to share a few meals a week, cook together, celebrate together, but maybe not be around people all day. Someone or a group to watch a movie with. People to go for a walk or hike with. I think this is a sustainable option for many groups who want to live alone, but not be lonely and isolated. The benefits of a collective community without loss of privacy and your own unique space.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

They can catch me on facebook at and/or /in/fern-pessin-ibrt. My website for caregiving resources is My books are available on Amazon. You can search by my name. I have an author page.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.