Easing into Caregiving

#caregiving #caregiversupport #caregivernurnout

Roz Jones

There is one axiom that if your parents don’t pass away young in life, you are going to watch them age.  Now for the most part, this is a natural and nice part of life because mom and dad can slowly become grandma and grandpa which are nice roles for them after working so hard to raise you.

But a corollary to that axiom is that if mom and dad are going to age, at some point you are going to begin helping them with the daily affairs of life.  And that occasional helping will escalate as their needs grow strong until you will become a full-fledged caregiver for an elderly person.

For many, the time when you suddenly become a caregiver is just that – sudden.  It happens often after the death of a parent and the widowed parent suddenly becomes needy because of the loss they are experiencing.  For married couples who have been together for decades, that loss is equivalent to the loss of a limb and far more devastating so that may be the time when you suddenly go from having few concerns for your aging parent to having many.

It might be strange to look at it this way, but the more you can ease into care giving, the more time you have to get used to it, for your elderly parent or parents to get used and for your family, forefends and coworkers to get used to it.  And if you can step in and make some minor changes to the environment of your aging parent, you may be able to delay the time when they become very dependent on you. 

If your parent or parents are still living in their own home, there are things you can do to make their living space more accessible and safe including…

  • Create a lifestyle that is all on one level.  Stairs can become a hazard for an elderly person.  So early in your plans to adapt their living space, move them into a ground floor bedroom and put all significant rooms, including the kitchen, the pantry, the laundry room and the living room are on the same level. 
  • Take some of the work out of daily chores.  Most local grocery stores will deliver food to the elderly so you can make those arrangements for your aging parent.  You can also find services that work by the hour that come in and clean the house, do simple repairs and chores and take care of the business of home ownership for your parents.
  • You can make arrangements with home  health care professionals to drop by for an hour or two a week just to make sure your parents medications are still safe to use, that all prescriptions have been filled and that your parent understands their medications and when and how to take them.
  • Reorganize the kitchen so things your parent will use every day are on an eye level shelf and are easy to get to and to put away after washing.  Make sure the toaster oven, microwave and other important appliances are also easy to get to and that your parent is comfortable with these units if the models that may have come with the assisted living center are not familiar to them.
  • Go through the house and make it easy for your parent to use.  You can put in those walking and grab bars along the halls and in the bathtub and other places where your mom or dad might need the additional support.  You can check the lights so there are plenty of visibility for what your parents have to do.

To really take the preparation of your parent’s living space for their ease of use and safety, look at pulling emergency pull ropes in every room.  These units are used extensively in assisted care units and they make it possible for your parent to pull that cord if she is in trouble and set off an alarm or call to you or to emergency care, should there be a sudden medical need.

By working to make your parent’s work area easy to use and safe, you can do a lot to put off the time when your mom or dad may have to move to a retirement village or nursing home.  And you keep them independent which allows you to slowly ease into care giving which is much easier on everybody.

The job of becoming the primary caregiver for your aging parent is universally recognized as one of the most difficult transitions we will go through.  To start with, it’s hard to go through the reversal of parent and child.  All your life, mom or dad were the strong ones.  They were the ones you ran to for help and who were always there to tell you, “It’s ok. Everything will be all right.”

But now as your parent ages and you have to witness their demise mentally and physically, you realize that everything may not be all right especially if your parent is going through a slow decline of a terminal illness.  When the only outcome of what you are dealing with in your parent’s life is death, that makes it tough to stay upbeat, creative and proactive about how to handle life’s daily challenges.

The task of caring for an elderly parent is overwhelming.  You have concerns about their finances, their medications, the progress of their disease if they are battling something terminal, their mental state, their diet and their emotional state as well.  It’s easy to begin to “hover” your senior citizen in an emotional attempt to block any more harm coming to him or her.  This is a parenting instinct and one that your dad and mom probably won’t resist because they want to be cared for.

You feel the anxiety of your parent and the fears they face as the months and years ahead hold uncertain dangers and a certain outcome.  So there is an instinct in caregivers to give 100% of your time, your energy and your resources to caring for that elderly loved one. 

The problem is that you, the caregiver do have other obligations other than caring for your loved one.  You may have a job, a family and your own health and upkeep to think about.  So it’s a good idea for you the caregiver, the family of caregivers and event he one being cared for to keep your eyes open for caregiver burnout to help the one who is trying so hard to take care of Grandma or Grandpa to also take care of themselves a little bit so they will last a lot longer.

Underlying much of the intensity of effort many caregivers put out to help their aging or align parents is guilt.  Guilt can be a powerful force that feeds on itself in an unhealthy way.  The outcome is not only does the primary caregiver feel guilty that mom or dad are even having to go through age related illness, they feel guilty for any time they take for themselves or to care for their own needs or the needs of their family.

Caregiver burnout can result in decline in health in the caregiver and eventually may lead to changes in attitude about the task of care giving and in some cases a nervous breakdown.   Symptoms include poor sleep and eating habits in the caregiver, a possible increase in drinking to help “settle the nerves” and an inability to think about anything else than what mom or dad needs.

If you see these symptoms in yourself or someone you know and care about who may be suffering from caregiver burnout, act fast to get them some help.  They need to realize that taking care of themselves is part of the task of caring for their aging parents.  It may even be a situation that calls for a talk with the caregiver along with the one being cared for.  If that senior citizen can see that they need to encourage their caregiver to go be with family, get some rest, see a movie and forget the responsibilities of care giving for a while, that respite from the stress can do a world of good for that important person in their lives.

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