On Self-care During Eldercare

I thought taking care of an elderly parent would be so easy.  I do still believe it is an honor and a privilege to take care of your elderly parent and something I don’t take lightly by any means since my parents passed away very young (ages 46 and 65) and my mother-in-law passed away when she was 50.  I remember my grandmother saying one mother can take care of 10 children but 10 children can’t take care of one mother.  Silly, I thought….. Well, that is sometimes the truth. 

Our lives are programmed such that we as adult children are busy working, taking care of children and have little time enough for our own mental well-being and relaxation.  Here is what I have learned in the past few years being one of eight children (in-laws included) and grandchildren while juggling our lives to care for our Dad.

 We moved my father-in-law from New York, where he lived his whole live.  He stopped working at 80 years old.  He managed to live alone for 30 years after his beloved wife passed away.  He managed being on dialysis for several years while still working.  We move him to Maryland so his Maryland children could get to share his later years in life and so he can be around his grandchildren.

 Dad has compromised heath including and needed a team of physicians:  a nephrologist, cardiologist, hematologist, vascular doctor, dermatologist, pulmonologist and internist.  He fell and broke his hip which meant rehabilitation and continuous physical therapy and needed an aid with him.  Doctor appointments, doctor appointments and more doctor appointments.  This also means managing all of his financial affairs, grocery shopping, making sure his medications are organized weekly and trying to give him a sense of independence.  What independence? Being the most independent person, to becoming totally dependent in a matter of one fall was so sad to see.

I will say that I look at life when someone young is sick as tragic. When someone is fortunate enough to live long enough to feel that they have done most of what they have wanted it is truly a gift and the decline of one’s body is more natural and not tragic.  But nevertheless it is really sad to watch.  The toll it takes on the entire family (and sometime there is only person who manages this all) is horrific.  It is stressful!

Here are my tips!

1.   Learn to PACE YOURSELF.  YOU WILL BURN OUT..  You will get fatigued, resentful, irritable and sometimes angry.  Try to exercise, manage your sleep and eat well – it is ok to protect yourself because if you don’t, who will?

2.  ASSESS , ASSESS , ASSESS AND MORE ASSESS…… Try to figure out if this is an immediate situation that needs to be dealt with right away or something that isn’t really as pressing and can be put off for a more convenient time.  I do have to mention that I try to do this and sometimes your heart just won’t allow you to put something off.

3.  ASK FOR HELP.  I am not good at this, I have to admit. If I can do it, I do.  It does help to put the task out there to family and say who can do this and who can do that?

Certainly, some family members will have bigger jobs than others.  There does need to be a point person for each task. And, it is overwhelming when one has to manage the financial, medical and physical issues all by themselves, so asking for help whenever possible is essential.  

4.  Realize that this is likely short-term but in the meantime it feels like it is going to go on forever.  Do the best you can, but don’t sacrifice your own well-being.  You may have to say to Mom or Dad, “I just can’t right now. I am tired, I am feeling overwhelmed.”  They most probably will understand.  We are all human and need to accept that.  

My Mental Health Day Thanks:
Joy Paul
 LCSW-C Private Clinician
Board President, Mental Health Association  of Montgomery County

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