Caring for elderly parents is a reality for many adult children. As parents age, their need for personal care and medical attention increases. However, there comes a point when caring for older adults can become overwhelming, particularly when they live longer than expected.
My beautiful mom-in-law is now 101 years old. She is living in an assisted living facility, is unable to walk and care for herself, and requires 24-hour assistance. She only has mild cognitive decline but physically, her body is just wearing out.
Her son and daughter are elderly themselves, and find it difficult to manage her care. Fortunately, they have the financial means to hire a professional caregiver, for a while at least but the emotional toll of watching their elderly mother decline is very draining.
As older parents age and their health deteriorates, it is common for adult children to take on increasing responsibility for providing care. This extra stress can be a struggle as they grapple with divided loyalties between caring for their elderly parent/s and also taking care of themselves and their own family.
Older people who live for a very long time, like my mom-in-law, can certainly end up requiring 24-hour hands-on care. For their family, it can be hard to witness a loved one decline inch by inch.
In addition, the financial strain associated with the care of elderly parents can also become a concern. Without proper planning in place, the costs of medical care, medications, and even basic necessities like food can quickly become overwhelming.
In this article, we will discuss how long-term caregiving affects families and discuss some practical tips on how to cope with it.
We will also discuss some ways that families can work together in order to provide the best possible care for their elderly loved ones, while also taking care of themselves and their own family.
Feeling Guilty For Wishing For The Day You Can Stop Caregiving?
The first issue I want to address is that of guilt.
It’s natural for caregivers to feel guilty about wanting a break from caregiving duties. This is especially true if they have been caring for their parent for years. Caregiving is hard enough but when it seems that there is no end in sight, it can be very overwhelming.
But at the same time, you dread the day that your parent will die. Actually, you may have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, you will be relieved that your loved one is not having to suffer anymore and the long journey of caregiving can come to an end.
On the other hand, there may be a deep sense of sadness at the loss of your beloved parent and all the memories associated with them.
These feelings are natural, and it’s important to recognize them. It can be helpful to take some time to speak to a counselor about these feelings.
The caregiver merely wants to have their life back and see their care recipient’s pain and low quality of life come to an end. Of course, those who admit to having this dark thought wonder if that makes them a terrible person. Being a family caregiver is fraught with countless difficult emotions, and this is perhaps one of the hardest to grapple with.agingcare.com
I do want you to know that these are very normal and you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed. There is no right or wrong way to feel about this situation, and you are not alone in your experience.
What Are The Risks Associated With Long-Term Caregiving?
Being a primary caregiver for an elderly parent can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
Here are some of the risks that long-term caregiving can pose to the caregiver:
The emotional impact on caregivers of elderly parents who are living too long can be significant.
Here are some potential emotional effects:
- Guilt: Caregivers may feel guilty for wanting their loved ones to pass away, even though they may be suffering from caregiving stress and exhaustion.
- Grief: Caregivers may experience anticipatory grief, or grief before their loved ones have passed away, as they watch their parents decline over time.
- Anxiety: Caregivers may feel anxious about the future and what it may hold for their loved ones and themselves.
- Depression: Caregivers may experience depression as they feel overwhelmed, stressed, and isolated in their caregiving role.
- Resentment: Caregivers may feel resentful of their loved ones for the burden that caregiving has placed on their lives, as well as the loss of their own personal freedoms and opportunities.
- Loss of identity: Caregivers may feel like their identity has been consumed by their caregiving role, leading to a loss of self-esteem and purpose.
- Burnout: Caregivers may experience burnout as a result of the constant demands of caregiving, leading to emotional exhaustion and detachment.
Amount Of Time
The impact of the huge amount of time that caregivers have to give when caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can be significant.
Here are some potential effects:
- Time constraints: Caregiving can take up a significant amount of time, leaving little time for the caregiver to pursue their own interests or take care of their own needs.
- Work-life balance: Caregiving can affect the caregiver’s ability to work, leading to reduced work hours, missed workdays, or even quitting their job altogether.
- Financial strain: Caregiving can be expensive, and the cost can add up over time. The caregiver may have to reduce their work hours or even quit their job to provide care, which can result in financial strain.
- Health problems: Caregivers may neglect their own health and well-being as they focus on the daily tasks of providing care, leading to health problems such as fatigue, stress, and even chronic illness.
Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can have a significant impact on the caregiver’s finances.
Here are some potential financial effects:
- Reduced income: Caregiving can affect the caregiver’s ability to work, leading to reduced work hours, missed workdays, or even quitting their job altogether. This can result in reduced income and financial strain.
- Increased expenses: Caregiving can be expensive, as it may involve paying for medical equipment, medications, home modifications, a social worker, a geriatric care manager, and other caregiving-related expenses.
- Travel expenses: If you are a long-distance caregiver you may have to put in some travel time to check in on the care your elderly parent is getting.
- Opportunity costs: Caregiving can require a significant amount of time and energy, leaving little time for the caregiver to pursue other opportunities that may have financial benefits, such as education or career advancement.
- Retirement savings: Caregiving can affect the caregiver’s ability to save for retirement, as they may have to reduce their work hours or quit their job altogether to provide care.
- Family conflict: Caregiving can create family conflict over financial matters, as some family members may be contributing financially while others are not.
Impact On Career or Job
Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can have a significant impact on the caregiver’s career or job.
Here are some potential effects:
- Reduced work hours: Caregiving can require a significant amount of time and energy, leading to the caregiver reducing their work hours or taking a leave of absence from their job.
- Missed workdays: Caregiving responsibilities may require the caregiver to miss workdays to attend to their loved one’s needs.
- Career stagnation: Caregiving responsibilities may prevent the caregiver from pursuing career advancement opportunities or taking on new projects, leading to career stagnation.
- Career interruption: Caregiving responsibilities may cause the caregiver to take a break from their career or leave their job altogether.
- Financial impact: Reduced work hours or leaving a job can result in a financial impact on the caregiver, such as reduced income or the need to rely on savings.
- Workplace stress: The stress of caregiving, combined with the demands of a job, can lead to workplace stress and burnout.
Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can have a significant impact on the caregiver’s physical health.
Here are some potential effects:
- Physical strain: Caregiving can be physically demanding, requiring the caregiver to assist their loved one with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting.
- Sleep deprivation: Caregiving responsibilities may interfere with the caregiver’s ability to get enough sleep, leading to sleep deprivation and fatigue.
- Poor nutrition: Caregiving responsibilities may prevent the caregiver from having time to prepare healthy meals or lead to emotional eating, resulting in poor nutrition.
- Reduced exercise: Caregiving responsibilities may limit the caregiver’s ability to exercise regularly, leading to a sedentary lifestyle and health problems.
- Increased stress: The stress of caregiving can have physical effects on the caregiver, such as headaches, high blood pressure, and other stress-related illnesses.
- Increased risk of illness: Caregiving can increase the caregiver’s risk of illness, as they may be exposed to their loved one’s illness or neglect their own health needs.
Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can have a significant impact on the caregiver’s mental health.
Here are some potential effects:
- Emotional stress: Caregiving can be emotionally challenging, as the caregiver may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed by the demands of caregiving.
- Social isolation: Caregiving responsibilities may prevent the caregiver from engaging in social activities, leading to social isolation and loneliness.
- Caregiver burden: Caregiving responsibilities can be burdensome, leading to caregiver burnout and feelings of resentment or guilt.
- Grief and loss: Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long may involve watching their decline or dealing with their eventual death, leading to feelings of grief and loss.
- Role strain: The caregiver may struggle to balance their caregiving responsibilities with other roles and responsibilities, leading to role strain and conflict.
- Mental health disorders: Caregiving can increase the risk of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As an Occupational Therapist working in the field of geriatrics, I saw many families struggling with the conflicts that come up when there’s an elderly parent who is requiring more and more care.
This can cause tension and conflict within the family, particularly if other family members do not understand or appreciate the demands of caregiving.
- Caregiving responsibilities may require the caregiver to spend a significant amount of time away from their spouse, children, or other family members, leading to feelings of neglect or resentment.
- Caregiving can also lead to a redistribution of family roles and responsibilities, causing disruptions in the family’s routine and dynamic. The caregiver may need to take on additional responsibilities, such as household chores or financial management, which can cause strain and tension in the family.
- Caregiving can lead to financial strain, particularly if the caregiver needs to take time off work or pay for additional expenses related to caregiving.
- Caregiving can also affect the emotional well-being of the caregiver, which can in turn affect their interactions with their family members. Caregivers who are stressed, anxious, or depressed may be less patient or responsive to the needs of their family members, leading to tension and conflict.
Legal and Ethical Issues
One of the most important things to consider is guardianship. If your parent is no longer able to make decisions for themselves, you may need to become their legal guardian so that you can ensure they receive the proper care and support.
You should also look into setting up a power of attorney so that someone else can make decisions about healthcare or financial matters if needed.
Another important legal and ethical issue is end-of-life care. Whether your parent has a terminal illness or not, it’s important to make sure that their wishes are respected at the of life.
This includes all types of decisions from where they’d like to spend their last days to whether they’d prefer palliative or hospice care.
Read more about the legal issues that need to be addressed when caring for an older parent.
Feeling Trapped Caring For An Elderly Parent
Many caregivers feel trapped and overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for their aging parent. There are basically 3 main reasons for this:
- Feeling a sense of obligation or guilt
- Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of caregiving
- Feeling a moral or ethical obligation to care for their elderly parents
This sense of obligation can be amplified by cultural or societal expectations, making it difficult for the caregiver to step back from their caregiving responsibilities.
How Family Caregivers Of Elderly Parents Can Cope
The one thing that is most important for family caregivers to know is that there is help available and there are very effective ways to cope with the demands of caring for an elderly parent.
Here are some strategies for coping with long-term caregiving:
1. Support Groups
Support groups can provide a range of benefits for caregivers of elderly parents who are living too long.
These groups offer a safe and supportive environment where caregivers can connect with others who are going through similar experiences, share their concerns, and receive emotional support.
Some of the benefits of support groups for caregivers include:
- Reducing feelings of isolation: Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can be an isolating experience, and support groups can help caregivers connect with others who understand what they are going through. This can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community.
- Sharing information and resources: Support groups can be a valuable source of information and resources for caregivers. Members can share tips, advice, and resources on everything from managing the caregiving workload to accessing community resources and services.
- Providing emotional support: Caring for an elderly parent can be emotionally demanding, and support groups can offer a safe space for caregivers to express their feelings and receive emotional support from others who understand their experiences.
- Offering a sense of empowerment: Support groups can help caregivers feel empowered and more in control of their caregiving responsibilities. Members can share strategies for managing stress, setting boundaries, and accessing resources to make caregiving more manageable.
- Improving caregiver well-being: Research has shown that participation in support groups can improve caregiver well-being and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Support groups can provide a source of social support and help caregivers manage the stress and demands of caregiving more effectively.
These groups can reduce feelings of isolation, provide information and resources, offer emotional support, provide a sense of empowerment, and improve caregiver well-being.
Joining a support group can be an effective way for caregivers to connect with others and manage the demands of caregiving more effectively.
2. Put Yourself As Number One
If you are a caregiver of an elderly parent who is living too long, it’s essential to prioritize your own well-being. Caregiving can be a demanding and stressful experience, and neglecting your own needs can lead to burnout and other negative health outcomes.
Here are some reasons why it’s important to prioritize yourself as a caregiver:
- Maintaining your physical health: Caregiving can be physically demanding, and neglecting your own health can lead to exhaustion, illness, and other negative health outcomes. Prioritizing exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can help you stay physically healthy and better able to manage the demands of caregiving.
- Managing stress: Caregiving can be emotionally challenging, and prioritizing self-care can help you manage stress and prevent burnout. This can include engaging in activities you enjoy, taking breaks, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.
- Setting an example for your loved ones: Prioritizing your own well-being can also set an example for your loved ones, including your elderly parent. By demonstrating the importance of self-care, you can encourage them to prioritize their own health and well-being.
- Improving caregiver well-being: Research has shown that prioritizing self-care can improve caregiver well-being and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. By taking care of yourself, you can be better equipped to provide the best possible care to your elderly parent.
- Avoiding burnout: Neglecting your own needs can lead to burnout, which can negatively impact your health and well-being. Prioritizing self-care can help you avoid burnout and continue providing quality care to your elderly parent over the long term.
By taking care of yourself, you can be better equipped to provide the best possible care to your elderly parent over the long term.
3. Use A Schedule
Caring for an elderly parent who is living too long can be overwhelming and time-consuming, making it challenging to balance caregiving responsibilities with other tasks and commitments.
Using a schedule can help caregivers better manage their time and ensure that they are able to meet their own needs and responsibilities while still providing quality care to their loved one.
Here are some ways that using a schedule can help caregivers:
- Prioritizing tasks: By using a schedule, caregivers can prioritize their caregiving tasks and ensure that they are completing the most important tasks first. This can help reduce stress and prevent important tasks from falling through the cracks.
- Managing time: Caregivers can use a schedule to block out time for caregiving tasks and other responsibilities, such as work or personal appointments. This can help them manage their time more efficiently and ensure that they are able to meet all of their obligations.
- Avoiding burnout: Scheduling time for self-care activities, such as exercise or relaxation techniques, can help caregivers avoid burnout and maintain their own physical and emotional health.
- Reducing stress: By having a clear plan for their day, caregivers can reduce stress and feel more in control of their situation. This can help them better manage the challenges of caregiving and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
- Improving communication: Sharing the schedule with other family members or caregivers can help improve communication and ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can help reduce conflicts and ensure that the elderly parent is receiving consistent and quality care.
By using a schedule, caregivers can better manage their caregiving responsibilities while still taking care of themselves and meeting other obligations.
4. Set Boundaries
As a caregiver of an elderly parent who is living too long, it’s important to set boundaries to protect your own physical and emotional health.
Setting boundaries can help you establish clear limits on what you’re willing and able to do, and can also help you communicate your needs effectively to other family members and caregivers.
Here are some ways that setting boundaries can help caregivers:
- Clarify expectations: Setting boundaries can help clarify what is expected of you as a caregiver, and what you are and aren’t willing to do. This can help reduce confusion and conflict, and help you manage your time and energy more effectively.
- Protect your own well-being: Setting boundaries can help you protect your own physical and emotional health. It can help you establish limits on how much time and energy you can realistically devote to caregiving, and help you avoid burnout or resentment.
- Establish self-care routines: By setting boundaries, you can create space for self-care routines, such as exercise or relaxation techniques. This can help you maintain your own well-being and feel more empowered as a caregiver.
- Improve communication: Setting boundaries can also help improve communication with other family members or caregivers. By communicating your needs clearly and assertively, you can help reduce conflict and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
- Enhance the caregiving relationship: Setting boundaries can also help enhance the caregiving relationship. By being clear and consistent about what you’re able to do, you can establish trust and build a stronger relationship with your loved one.
Overall, setting boundaries can be a useful tool for caregivers of elderly parents who are living too long. It can help you clarify expectations, protect your own well-being, establish self-care routines, improve communication, and enhance the caregiving relationship.
By setting boundaries, you can create a more sustainable and fulfilling caregiving experience.
5. Focus On The Positive
Focusing on the positive can be an effective coping strategy for caregivers who are caring for elderly parents who are living too long.
Here are some ways that focusing on the positive can help:
- Boosts mood: Focusing on the positive can help boost your mood and reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. By intentionally seeking out positive experiences and thoughts, you can improve your emotional well-being and feel more resilient.
- Improves perspective: When you focus on the positive, it can help you gain a more balanced perspective on your caregiving experience. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the challenges, you can also recognize the meaningful moments and positive aspects of caregiving.
- Enhances relationships: Focusing on the positive can also help enhance your relationship with your elderly parent. By emphasizing positive interactions and experiences, you can strengthen your connection and feel more fulfilled as a caregiver.
- Inspires creativity: Focusing on the positive can inspire creativity in problem-solving and finding solutions. You may find that you are able to approach challenges with a more positive attitude and generate new ideas for making caregiving more manageable.
- Cultivates gratitude: Focusing on the positive can also help cultivate gratitude for the caregiving experience. By recognizing the gifts and opportunities that come with caregiving, you can feel more appreciative of your role as a caregiver and the relationships that you have with your loved ones.
By intentionally seeking out positive experiences and thoughts, you can create a more fulfilling and sustainable caregiving experience.
6. Avoid Social Isolation
Caring for an elderly parent for years can contribute to the caregiver’s social isolation. To combat this, it’s important for caregivers to prioritize their social connections and seek support from friends, family, or support groups.
- Engaging in self-care activities, such as exercise or hobbies, can also help caregivers maintain their social connections and improve their quality of life.
- Friends or family members who are not caregivers may not fully understand the demands of caregiving, leading to a lack of support or social isolation.
7. Seek Out Respite Care
Respite care can be an effective way to help caregivers who are caring for elderly parents who are living too long.
Respite care is a service providing temporary relief for caregivers and can take many forms, including in-home respite care, adult day care, and residential respite care.
Here are some ways that getting respite care can help caregivers:
- Reduces caregiver burnout: Caring for an elderly parent can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and getting respite care can help prevent caregiver burnout. By taking a break from caregiving, caregivers can recharge and regain energy.
- Provides time for self-care: Getting respite care can provide caregivers with the time they need to take care of their own physical, emotional, and social needs. Caregivers can use this time to exercise, go to appointments, socialize with friends and family, or engage in hobbies and interests.
- Improves quality of care: Respite care can also help improve the quality of care that the elderly parent receives. Caregivers who are burnt out or overwhelmed may not be able to provide the same level of care as when they are rested and refreshed. By taking a break, caregivers can return to caregiving with renewed energy and focus.
- Enhances relationships: Respite care can also help enhance the relationship between the caregiver and the elderly parent. By taking a break from caregiving, caregivers may feel more patient, compassionate, and connected to their loved ones.
- Provides a safety net: Finally, respite care can provide a safety net for caregivers in case of emergencies or unexpected events. If a caregiver becomes ill or needs to travel for work, respite care can provide a backup plan for caring for the elderly parent.
Caregivers who take advantage of respite care can improve their own well-being and the well-being of their loved ones.
8. Utilize Alternative Housing
Utilizing alternative housing can be an effective way to help caregivers who are caring for elderly parents. Alternative housing options can provide a safe and supportive environment for the elderly parent while also giving the caregiver a break from caregiving responsibilities.
This type of housing includes an independent living facility, long-term care facilities, and memory units. A senior living community or a retirement community are often not ideal because they don’t have healthcare providers on site.
Here are some ways that utilizing alternative housing can help caregivers:
- Reduces caregiver burnout: Caring for an elderly parent can be physically and emotionally exhausting, and utilizing alternative housing can help prevent caregiver burnout. By allowing the elderly parent to live in a safe and supportive environment, caregivers can take a break from caregiving responsibilities and recharge.
- Improves quality of care: Alternative housing options often provide professional care and support, which can help improve the quality of care that the elderly parent receives. Caregivers may not have the same level of training or expertise as professional caregivers, and utilizing alternative housing can ensure that the elderly parent is receiving the best possible care.
- Provides time for self-care: Utilizing alternative housing can provide caregivers with the time they need to take care of their own physical, emotional, and social needs. Caregivers can use this time to exercise, go to appointments, socialize with friends and family, or engage in hobbies and interests.
- Enhances relationships: Utilizing alternative housing can also help enhance the relationship between the caregiver and the elderly parent. By taking a break from caregiving responsibilities, caregivers may feel more patient, compassionate, and connected to their loved ones.
- Provides a safety net: Finally, utilizing alternative housing can provide a safety net for caregivers in case of emergencies or unexpected events. If a caregiver becomes ill or needs to travel for work, alternative housing can provide a backup plan for caring for the elderly parent.
Caregivers who consider alternative housing options can improve their own well-being and the well-being of their loved ones.
9. Family Meeting
Having a family meeting can help siblings come to an agreement about how to best care for their aging parents. Everyone in the family should have a say and be aware of the situation. Openly discuss and brainstorm ideas on how to handle any challenges that come up, especially financial and housing issues.
Your parent may want to remain in their own home vs. moving to a long-term care facility. This involves an in-home caregiver and decisions on how to manage trips for doctor’s appointments.
Keeping everyone in the loop helps to ease anxiety and create an environment of respect and understanding so that all family members can take part in caregiving.
It is important to remember that each person will have different ideas and needs when it comes to caring for aging parents, so be patient, kind, and understanding with each other during this process.