By Tanya Glover
Caring for Your Aging Parents When we are children it seems that are parents will be there to care for us forever. When we become adults and have children of our own it seems that Grandma and Grandpa will always be there. After all, parents are the ones who are supposed to take care of you right? But, then the day comes when the parents you once knew, strong, vital, and full of life, begin to fade. The reality is a hard one to face, but the time comes when you become the caregiver. The relationship switches places with you as the parent and them as the children. This has a profound effect on the dynamic of the relationship and there are many moments where you wonder if you can do it. It is painful and emotionally draining but there is help for children who are caregivers. You just have to look for it and ask for it.
Help for the Helper
I know from personal experience how taxing it is to care for an aging parent. If you are an only child it can be twice as hard. However, if you have siblings, you can ban together to provide the care your parent needs. For many families, nursing homes are not an option. Maybe it is an issue with money but with my family it is an issue with a promise. My husband and his siblings promised his mother that she would not be put in a nursing home no matter what happened. It has been a year since she has gotten sick. A year of having all of our lives turned upside down. A year of spending limited time with our families due to the schedule they all keep, taking turns caring for Mom. Even with four siblings it was too overwhelming so we turned to the state. Home health can be a wonderful thing, but because of the heavy changes made in the system due to government cuts, the hours the state will provide for home health care have been cut drastically. My mother-in-law who cannot be left alone for a moment and if total care only receives an hour and a half per day in state funded care and this is an absolute travesty. Knowing that we all work and that she needed 24 hour care, we looked outside the state help and hired people to come in to her home and care for her during the rest of our working hours. This has been financially hard, as I am sure it would be for many people, but this is certainly a viable option for someone who must provide care for their aging parent. If you must do this there are a few options that you can pursue. First, look to the home health agencies. Many certified nurses aides are happy to have some extra outside work to do as because of the state changes they have lost hours and income. You can find caring and dedicated aids this way. Another avenue to take is advertising. Craigslist is the perfect place to put an ad announcing that you are interested in hiring an aide to help care for your parent. You can take applications and do interviews, finding the best match for your parent as well as you. If you do not require full time care but need some respite days, you can go to your local social service office and see what they can do for you. Many times there are programs that help with assistance in providing a few hours here and there so you, the caregiver, can take care of yourself. If this does not work for you then you may go to your place of worship and ask for help. Many times, a church family can be just as kind and caring as a biological family and there may be someone there that would not mind helping out here and there. Asking for help may be the only way to keep your sanity in this hard time and if you ask, so shall you receive.
After pouring so much time and energy into caring for your aging parent it you can start to feel completely burnt out. Once upon a time, going to sit with your parent was a pleasure and recreational activity but now that things have changed it can seem more like an unpleasant chore. No matter how much you feel obligated to care for your parent, it cannot be done at the expense of your own mental or physical health. In addition to asking for outside help, it is important to get emotional support for yourself. Talk to your family about what you are going though. Confide your feelings to your spouse. Just talking about things can be a very cathartic experience and make the load feel just a little lighter. If you cannot take care of your own emotions then you will not be able to care for anyone else either. Talking to a counselor may also be beneficial for you. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings you are having may be hard to share with family. You may be feeling angry or frustrated that you have this burden. You may be hoping that it will be over soon and if so that would mean the parents death. These thoughts and feelings, while natural, can be hard to share with family. You may feel guilty about having these feelings and are scared to share them with family because you fear that they will judge you harshly. When talking to a counselor you do not have to fear these things. They are there to help you cope and not to judge. Expressing yourself to an unbiased third party can be very helpful and give you strength to forge ahead. A counselor can also offer helpful ideas on how to better help family cope as well. Always remember that being a caregiver, to a parent or anyone else, require the special care for yourself as well. Being at your best is in your best interest as well at the person you are caring for.
The Feelings of the Aging Parent
While the caregiver is at the heart of this article, it is also important to remember that the aging parent is going though many emotional and physical changes as well. Needing to have your children take care of you can be a difficult experience. As the parent, they are used to being your caregiver. Having the roles reversed can feel embarrassing and shameful for them. Having your children see you exposed physically is something most parents never imagined happening and it is hard for them to accept that it must be done. Remember this when you are providing care. If you must bath your parent, give as much privacy as possible. Cover the areas you are not washing or cleaning with a towel or blanket. Talk to them while you are providing care. This can make the mood lighter, more natural and less uncomfortable for both parent and child. Keep in mind that as much as you would rather not see your parent in this way, your parent likes it even less.
When the Aging Parent has Dementia/Alzheimer’s
An aging parent may not only need care due to physical ailments. Mental issues may also come into play. This can be much harder on the caregiver and presents a whole different set of emotional issues. Having worked in lock down units in nursing homes with patients with these types of problems I can say without a doubt that it is much harder on the family then the patient when these illnesses are present. At the later stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s the patient in is ignorant bliss for the majority of the time. The family must deal with the fact that their parent does not know who they are or have any recollection of their past. The emotional implications of this part of the disease(s) are staggering and the family suffers greatly. There are varying degrees of mental dysfunction with people with these illnesses. For my mother-in-law, there is part time coherence. When that is gone however, she says very hurtful things to her children and this has had a profound emotional effect on them. The thing to remember in these cases is that the parent does not mean what they are saying and they don’t know what they are saying. Though it does not make it much easier for the child it is important to remember this so the care they provide is not affected by the hurt being doled out. It can be very overwhelming but the thing I try to point out to my in-laws is that their mother does not mean what she is saying and if she knew what she was putting them through she would hate herself. She did not ask to be in this condition anymore then the family did. Keeping this in mind can help very much in getting through the day to day care of your aging parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
When at Home Care is No Longer Possible
The time may come when it is no longer possible to care for you parent at home. Maybe the parents physical health has declined to the point that they cannot get the things they need outside of a facility. Maybe the parent who has a mental disorder has become violent and the family and the parent are both put in danger. No matter why the choice must be made, it is a hard thing to do. No one wants to put their parent in a nursing home. As someone who has worked in nursing homes, I know that the quality of care is not what it should be and any fears that the family has about their parent not receiving the care they deserve are well founded. In my experience, the patients who receive the best care are the ones whose family visits often and pop up at different times of the day. Once the presence of the family is known the staff appears to pay closer attention to the patient then they would a patient whose family never visits. This is a sad reality but a reality none the less. So, if you must put your parent in a nursing home commit yourself to visiting often, calling often, and coming in when you are not expected to be there. This will ensure that your parent is getting the care that they deserve and require.
You Can Only Do So Much
While you may want to do it all for your aging parent, you can only do so much and can only offer what you have both emotionally and financially. If you do not feel as if you are able to do enough do not feel guilty. You are human too and cannot just stop living your own life and providing care for your own family. If you must put your parent in a nursing home there can be a great deal of guilt from that decision as well. While it is hard not to feel this way try to keep in mind that you have done the best that you can do for your parent and for yourself and your family. You can still provide care and should do so. Advocate for your aging parent and know that they love you for what you have done and would not want for you to feel guilt or pain.