It’s not easy to become elderly or to parent your parent(s). After all, we believe that adults should be able to take care of themselves. However, as we live longer most of us will become more and more involved with some aspect of senior care. This usually happens at a time when our own lives and responsibilities are the most complicated. Members of the “Sandwich Generation” are parenting their own children and taking care of their parents at the same time. Often, they are working outside of the home as well.
You may not want to think of your parents as being in less than perfect health or losing their independence, but we cannot ignore the fact that it happens. Caregiving has a significant impact on the life of the person providing care. How do you, the caregiver, take care of yourself?
Caregiving is a labor of love, but here are some things to consider:
Involve your parent in decision making as much as possible. Your parent has their own feelings and loss of independence can be a blow to their self-esteem. Encouraging them to talk about their feelings and discussing options for care builds trust.
Set boundaries. Caregivers need to be able to set limits as to what they can and cannot do for their loved ones. Do not become a martyr by placing unreasonable demands on yourself or by letting others place unreasonable demands on you.
Avoid drawing conclusions about what other family members “should” do –do not have unrealistic expectations of family members. Every child relates to their parent (and to stress) differently. Have an open, honest and ongoing discussion with each other so that they understand what you are doing and how and when they can help.
Take care of yourself as well as you take care of your parent. Schedule some time for yourself every day, even if it is only for short periods. Ignoring your own needs is bad for your physical and emotional health.
Avoid making promises you may not be able to keep. I cannot count how many times an adult child has said “ I promised her she would never (choose one): leave her own home, have someone live with her, have help from someone who was not a family member, go to an assisted living facility, nursing home, retirement home.” Circumstances change and the guilt of breaking a promise, even when it is in everyone's best interest, is difficult to overcome.
Plan ahead for the unexpected – for what happens if you are no longer able to provide care. Explore and know your options before you need them.
Break down complex situations into manageable components so you do not feel overwhelmed.
Speak with your employer. Performance at work often suffers when caregivers are stressed and distracted. See if you can work on a flexible schedule or telecommute. Some employers offer the services of an eldercare professional (through employee health and wellness programs) to help through the initial stage of caregiving – providing resources, counseling, referrals and answers to questions that may arise.
Locate a Senior Center/Adult Day Care in your area. Social day programs provide opportunities for your parent to socialize and maintain a level of activity and give you some respite time.
Join a support group. Talking to others who are or have been in similar situations and who understand how tiring caregiving can be can be a tremendous stress reliever.
Do not hesitate to reach out for professional help – no one can be a caregiver completely on their own. Help is available for all types of tasks-from running errands, to paying bills, housekeeping and transportation.