For those of you who are new, you may want to check:
“New to Caregiving” article in our archives to familiarize yourself with what caregiving is all about.
Stepping into the role as a caregiver presents many challenges depending on who it is you are caring for. If you are caring for a child there are very specific issues you need to become aware of. If you are caring for a spouse, there are probably many new daily obligations that you will be taking on since your spouse may no longer be able to fulfill his/her responsibilities in the relationship. This may include daily tasks around the house, being the main income provider and more. So much will shift and there is a lot of adaptation that you must still do to keep the relationship loving and safe to continue growing and communicating in. In the case of many of you, role reversals will take place as you begin taking on responsibility in caring for your parent or an elderly loved one.
For now we will focus on caring for your parent or elderly family member who is still coherent and functioning on their own.
Taking on the responsibility as an adult child in caring for your parent is both extremely challenging and confusing. The most important issue your must remember is to make choices to keep them as independent as possible. It is up to you to learn how to communicate effectively with them, as most parents of our generation tend to be very in adept at expressing their feelings, wants and needs. As boomers, I am sure all of you can remember back to the sixties when all havoc broke out. Everything was about the “generational gap.” Generally speaking, when it comes to our parent’s expressing themselves, the unfortunate truth is that the “gap” still exists, so you must acquire tools and skills to empower yourselves as well as empowering your loved one. And the truth is that many of you still see yourself as the child just as your parents do, so the role reversal must be taken on gently, especially if your parents are coherent and capable of making wise decisions. If they are not coherent, it is a whole different undertaking. Slowly we will be addressing all the different situations that may come up.
As you already know, life spans are increasing more and more as the result of the advances in medicine. Also many parents have done things to make their elderly years a more positive experience for themselves through exercising, eating better and keeping their mind active as well. However, medicine has also prolonged life and many of our parents are no longer capable of performing daily functions that keep their lives balanced such as: driving, walking, preparing their own meals, dressing, paying bills and more. They may have difficulty in being alone if their spouse has passed away. There are many areas that you must assess in order to determine what they need. Taking on this role of overseeing and caring for them necessitates you learning as much as you possibly can so that the decisions, which will be made, are made are for the highest good of all concerned.
You may be thinking right now: “How do I know what to do and when? ” “Am I making the right decisions?” “Am I capable of taking on this role?” “How do I find the balance of caring for my parent when I work full time and have my own family to take care of?” And possibly, you may be saying to yourself, ” My own health is failing, how can I do both?” Or “I live a long distance from my parent, how am I going to be able to make sure they are ok?
All these questions are normal and valid to an adult child who is thrown into this role. Remember you are not alone. Your work will be to gather as much research and information to help you discern what is appropriate for you and your parent. You will need to learn how to delegate your time, how to set boundaries, how to communicate more effectively, how to say no, and organize your time as well as theirs.
First it is important for you to ascertain whether or not their mental or physical abilities have diminished and by how much. We know that certain limitations develop as we age, but to what extent is the most important factor. If the factors that present themselves to you are more serious in nature, then you will have to intervene in an entirely different manner.
Some of the facts you must assess are as follows:
- Is my parent capable of preparing meals, dressing themselves, able to get around on their own?
- Is my parent social?
- Are they happy?
- Are they depressed and living in utter isolation?
- What are their mental faculties like at this time?
- Are they capable and responsible in paying their bills?
- Are they showing signs of memory loss where it can become a detriment to themselves?
- Are they able to take their medications according to the doctor’s prescription?
- Are they able to speak up for themselves and still get their needs met?
- Is their decision making process a detriment to their health and well- being?
- Are they able to maintain their home on the inside as well as outside?
Hopefully if your parents need help, they will ask for it but what if they don’t. Are you going to be able to do all that is required to protect them in the proper way to maintain and keep the quality of their life up? If you are unable to even begin processing this evaluation process in terms of giving yourself answers to the questions posed here, then, perhaps, you need to hire a professional such as a Geriatric Care Manager, a therapist, who can assess and evaluate your parent’s situation properly. Even meeting with their primary physician might point you in the right direction. Getting the support you need to make clear decisions as to the care your parent needs should be your priority.
If you decide to take the role of caregiver on permanently, you must enroll the support of as many family members, close friends and neighbors and professionals to assure your parents of getting the quality help they deserve. Keep in mind the feelings your parent might be experiencing at these times as well; their loss of a spouse, the loss of independence, their physical losses, loss of friends. They may also be feeling guilt, shame or embarrassed at having to rely on you or others for help.
- Keep your parent independent by involving them in choices and decisions. There are always options.
- If you are not able to care for them properly, bring in a professional who can advise you and your parent.
- If your parent(s) need(s) to be living in a situation other than on their own in their own home, there are options.
- Be well informed rather than controlling and manipulative.
There are many alternatives to keep your parent(s) busy during the day such as senior centers, adult care and more.
- Remain calm, balanced and focused in caring for yourself as well as your loved one.
Gail R. Mitchell