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7 Ways To Cope With Taking Care Of Elderly Parents

How to cope with caring for elderly parent.

The care of an elderly parent involves looking after many different parts of their life. This includes their physical health, feelings, and everyday needs.

As your parents get older, they might need more help and understanding from their grown-up kids or people who look after them.

Although there is nothing that will completely eliminate primary caregiver stress, there are things that you can do to make this stage of your life easier to handle.

How Do You Deal With The Stress Of Caring For An Elderly Parent?

Here are our 7 tips on what you can do for yourself as a family caregiver to reduce the stress that so often accompanies caring for an older parent.

1. Do Not Neglect Your Own Needs

I put this one as the first step because it’s impossible to give the best possible care to someone else if you ignore your own personal care.

Many adult children of elderly parents make the very same mistakes that first time young parents do – they focus their entire attention on the person(s) they are caring for and neglect their own care needs.

This happens even more if you are in the “sandwich generation” and responsible for your parent’s care and your kids care as well.

No one can be a good caregiver when they are battling all of this.

But the truth is – if you experience caregiver burnout (which you probably will if you don’t care for yourself) then your ability to properly and safely care for your senior loved one will be hampered.

Not to mention that once that person has passed away, your memories of them may end up being terrible ones because your quality of life has suffered so much.

Your exhaustion, frustration and resentment could have built up to the point where you simply can’t focus on any good memories of them from the past.

Here are some ways you can take care of your own health:

  • Engage in regular physical activity. This could be a walk in the neighborhood, a walk on a treadmill, popping in an exercise video tape, yoga, etc.
  • Give yourself a respite from caregiving duties on a daily basis. This could be a 30 minute meditation video you found on YouTube. Or spending time reading, working on a craft project, creating something like videos or a blog, painting, etc. Spend this free time doing something that YOU enjoy doing – and do it on a regular basis.
  • Make two lunch or dinner dates every week. It doesn’t even have to be with another person if you can’t find someone. The point is to take regular breaks from elder care. Have a regular “date night” with yourself or set up a few social activities with someone else (or a group) and stick to this as much as possible.
  • Drop the “I have to do everything” act. The best way to do this is to delegate delegate as much as you possibly can to as many other people as possible. The majority of caregivers are women and generally speaking, many women tend to believe that they have to be everything to the person they are caring for. That’s an impossible task for any human being and that attitude will most certainly impact your own health negatively.

2. Get Help From Family, Friends, Volunteers Or A Paid Aide

So, speaking of delegating – our second tip is that it’s extremely imperative that you learn to share the workload with outside help.

It’s a good idea to have an army of people available to help take care of your parents. If there was ever a time when you need a helping hand – this is it!

Having as many people on your list as possible can give you some peace of mind and it will help greatly by not putting too much responsibility on just a few individuals.

Having people who can help take your parents to doctor’s appointments, perform simple meal preparation or just keep on eye on your parents will all be needed.

Some suggestions are:

  • Family – of course family members would be the first to ask (especially siblings if there are any).
  • Friends – this includes your friends as well as friends of your elderly parents.
  • Paid aides – don’t wait until the very last minute to start hunting for professional help. Chances are that your parents or their friends know someone who had a a very good aide that they can recommend. Or, look for a senior companion (which is different than a CNA or home care aide).
  • Club and Church members – whatever clubs or groups you and/or your parent(s) belong to – there may be one or two people within that group that can help out – even if it’s just to sit with your elderly parent while you go out for lunch or dinner.
  • Volunteers – organizations like have volunteers – so contact them to see what they may have available. Also, call any local medical schools, nursing schools and ask if there are students there who may be able to volunteer (for free or paid) to help.
  • Support group – if you belong to a caregiving support group, you may be able to help each other by giving respite care for each other.
  • Hospice – many adult children of elderly parents are hesitant to contact Hospice because they see that organization as the people you call when it’s near the end. Truth is – that is a myth. If your parent(s) quality for Hospice – they can receive all the great care that they have to offer for quite a long time.
    (Note: The Hospice nurse who cared for my mother said that she has had patients under her care for as long as 3 years).
    Read more about When To Call Hospice For Help

3. Create And Follow A Schedule For Everything

One of the best things that home caregivers can do to get a sense of “control” over their current situation is to create a schedule and to follow it.

I know that after my husband passed away – one thing that helped me to deal with the stress (and enormous grief) of the situation was to create and follow a schedule.

Make your schedule as detailed as possible. So, an example could be:

Schedule For Wednesdays

6:30 am – Get up – take a shower – have breakfast
7:30 am – Help Mom/Dad out of bed – shower – dressing
8:30 am – Breakfast for Mom/Dad (medications)
9:30 am – Laundry
10:30 am – Help Mom/Dad out to the garden/porch for some fresh air while I do some Yoga indoors
11:30 am – Begin preparing lunch
12:00 noon – Lunch (medications)
1:00 pm – Hobby or craft time
2:00 pm – Nap time for Mom/Dad – I chip away at household chores and daily tasks
4:00 pm – Sibling coming over for respite
4:30 pm – Going out for some shopping and dinner with a friend
7:30 pm – Come home – have dessert with sibling and Mom/Dad
9:30 pm – Help Mom/Dad prepare for bed and then into bed
10:30 pm – Go to bed myself so I get enough sleep

The point here is to include as much as you can into your schedule so that when you wake up – you know what your day “should” look like.

Of course – when living with and caring for another person – schedules can get skewed and it’s important to be flexible about that but working from a plan is much better for your physical and mental health than just “winging it” daily.

If you have difficult parents who give you (and others) a hard time about everything, our article on dealing with abusive parents may help.

4. Establish Rules of The Household For Everyone To Follow

Every household runs smoother if everyone involved knows the rules.

These could include things like…

  • If you live far away – how often would you come to visit and how long would you stay?
  • If you have siblings – who does what and when?
  • List of activities your parent(s) are responsible for.
  • List of activities you and others are responsible for.
  • Rules also help your “army” of helpers to know what is needed from them.

It may seem silly, but having these rules on a board up on the wall or somewhere is extremely helpful – especially if your elderly parent(s) suffer from any cognitive problems such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s.

When I worked as an Occupational Therapist I often used this technique with my patients and their families. It worked very well.

If you have problems with this, a family therapist can help you to set the necessary boundaries that can help to ease the demands of caregiving.

5. Know When To Let Go Of A Situation

One aspect of caring for elderly parent(s) is that situations will come up that will aggravate you to your core.

If you have been caring for anyone for any length of time – you understand this.

All adult children who end up caring for their elderly parents bring to the situation their family dynamics, including all past resentments and anger, etc.

It’s just human nature. It certainly happened when I was helping my sister to take care of our mother.

Emotional fireworks were just inevitable.

What I learned when working with my patients in nursing homes was to try my best to see my patient as a person with flaws and attributes all mashed up into one human body.

Good and bad behaviors were ever present but I needed to not take it personally.

It’s not about me – it’s about them.

I know – it’s harder to do that when you are emotionally involved with someone (like an elderly parent) and of course, when you have a history with them (be it a good or bad history).

But the advice is still the same – it’s not about YOU.

So, whatever is said or done – it’s a problem that THEY are having and it should not affect your emotional state.

Read this if you are having to choose between a spouse and elderly parents.

So, Let It Go.

One thing I can recommend is to take advantage of all the Virtual Counseling that is available these days.

You and your counselor can work together to create specific strategies to help you.

You can also get emotional support through a caregiver support group, which you can also find through an online search or may be available in your own community.

6. Don’t Be Shy About Expressing Your Feelings

To help yourself keep “sane” during this time it’s important to be able to express your feelings about what you are going through.

This is true for anyone going through any stressful situation.

Whether you become a caregiver gradually or all of sudden due to a crisis, or whether you are a caregiver willingly or by default, many emotions surface when you take on the job of caregiving. Some of these feelings happen right away and some don’t surface until you have been caregiving for awhile. Whatever your situation, it is important to remember that you, too, are important. All of your emotions, good and bad, about caregiving are not only allowed, but valid and important.

As I’ve stated a few times already in this article – harboring / hiding your feelings from others only ends up leading to resentment, anger, jealousy, frustration (and more) and adds more stress to an already difficult situation.

But – expressing your feelings doesn’t mean to just blurt out every single thought you have as you have it. There are productive ways to do this.

  • First and foremost – wait before you speak – there is rarely a time when speaking emotionally instead of rationally doesn’t just make the issue worse.
    I read a quote by Bernard Meltzer years ago that I still follow: “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”
  • Always make sure to emphasize that what you are saying is what you are “feeling”.
  • Avoid using absolute words such as “always” or “never” or “every time” or “everyone” – simply because it’s rarely ever true.
  • If you can’t identify what you are feeling – simply say that you aren’t sure what it is you are feeling but whatever it is, you aren’t feeling good and perhaps you just need some time to process it. Point is – you let the other person(s) know that whatever happened – is not creating a good feeling for you.
  • Do your best to avoid being defensive. Don’t look at these discussions as an attack on you. Try to imagine that the other person(s) is in a great deal of pain.
  • Keep your voice calm – even if the other person is screaming.
  • Stick to the situation – in other words – don’t bring up another event that caused emotional stress 5 years ago.

These are just general tips that I’ve learned after growing up in a very volatile family full of shouting matches.

Of course – I understand every situation is different and there may be times it will be extremely difficult to “turn the other cheek” but again – if you need help, please consider speaking to a counselor.

7. Accept Your Limitations

Every single one of us has our own set of skills and flaws – every one.

Knowing and acknowledging what you can and cannot do will go a long way in helping you to set up your schedule, your household rules. It will help you to know how much help you need, etc.

There is great strength in being courageous enough to accept who you are and what you can do.

Do not be afraid or feel guilty to consider long-term care if it’s needed. Your parent’s needs may simply be more than you can handle. It’s okay.

You will be a better caregiver and your aging family member will be much better off and will be able to enjoy these final years in a better place!

You may find our Checklist for Family Caregivers useful.

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