Taking good care of our parents as they age can be both a rewarding and overwhelming frustrating experience. Dealing with your loved one’s health issues, medications, financial matters, bills, housework, and appointments can easily become a full-time job. When you are in the thick of things it is easy to get burned out and forget to take care of yourself. But there are things you can do to make this season of life easier on yourself and your parents.
Caregiving for your Parents: The Process
To start with, don’t go at it alone. Ideally, you will have siblings or other family members helping you in your caregiving duties on a regular basis. But in some families, the job of taking care of Mom and Dad falls to one person, who inevitably becomes overwhelmed with the responsibility. If this is the situation you are in, you must ask for help. Siblings, even those who are far away, can and should contribute in some manner. Perhaps they can call daily to check in with Mom, arrange for weekly lawn maintenance, or take care of paperwork for you. If sibling help is not an option, you may have to get creative. If your parents belong to a church or other organization, contact them to see if anyone might be willing to donate few hours a week to visit with your folks, help with housework, or bring over a hot meal. If someone offers to help you, say yes! Too often we turn down help to be polite, but most people who offer do genuinely want to help, and even small bits of assistance will relieve stress on you. Do not forget your parents’ friends, neighbors, and other relatives, all of whom can provide valuable support for your loved one.
In addition to accepting any and all offers of help and reaching out to other people, get support for yourself as a caregiver. If you have a friend going through something similar, call them on a regular basis to trade stories and tips. Seek out caregiver support groups; your doctor or a local hospital can help you find one. Just talking to others going through the same thing can be very helpful and will provide you with a built-in sounding board as you make decisions for and with your parents. Don’t forget the basics of self-care. A little attention each day to eating right, getting some exercise, and getting enough sleep will make your job as caregiver feel much more manageable.
At some point during your caregiving, you might reach a point where the daily care your parents require is more than you can handle. If you feel overwhelmed on a regular basis, have trouble taking care of yourself, or are considering quitting work to care for your parents, it may be time to get additional help in the form of an assisted living community or other group living situation. Try to discuss this with your parents early on so that you can take their wishes into consideration, but know that you have not failed them if you ultimately decide they need more help than you can give. You may well find that with extra help on your side you are better able to enjoy the time you have together.