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How To Cope With Taking Care Of Elderly Parents

If you have been in the position of having to take care of your elderly parent(s) for some time then you are more than likely going through some difficult moments where you feel you simply won’t be able to cope any longer with the daily demands you have to deal with.

Although there is nothing that will completely eliminate this 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 (and your senior loved ones) to reduce the stress that so often accompanies caregivers of older adults.

1. Do Not Neglect Your Own Mental And Physical Health

I put this one at number one because the truth of the matter is, it’s impossible to care for anyone properly if you aren’t in good health yourself.

“Caregivers had a 26 percent higher risk of not having health care coverage, compared with non-caregivers, and they were at a significantly higher risk, a 59 percent additional risk, for not going to the doctor or getting a necessary health service due to cost,” Jacob Bentley, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University, said in a statement. – AARP.org

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 physical and mental health.

This very often only leads to frustration, anger, resentment and exhaustion.  No one can be a good caregiver when they are battling all of this.

There are plenty of excuses that caregivers use to avoid caring for themselves.  Here are just a few:

  • I don’t have the time.
  • I don’t have the energy.
  • He/She needs me all the time – 24/7.
  • I can’t get anyone else to help me.
  • I feel overwhelmed and can’t think of anything else.

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 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 yourself:

  • Get regular exercise.  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 every single day.  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.  Something that YOU enjoy doing – do it every single day.
  • 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 have a regular “date night” with yourself or someone else (or a group) and stick to this as much as possible. 
  • Drop the “I have to do everything” act.  This means to 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 very important tip is that it’s extremely imperative that you learn to share the workload. 

This does mean that you need to have an army of people available to help.  If there was ever a time when you needed help – this is it!  Whether you are caring for your parent who lives close by or you are doing it long distance – you will need help.

Caroline H. Sheppard, MSW wrote about her own experiences of how difficult it was to ask for help…

The most significant impediments to asking for and accepting help were:

  1. Difficulty trusting someone else to do the “job” right.
  2. An inability to let go of control due my worry about the person in need.
  3. Guilt over leaving the person for whom I cared. 
  4. Worry over the quality of care without someone there to oversee things day to day

In retrospect one of the most important lessons I learned, came out of my own difficulty with simply asking for help from relatives or friends, so that I could go home and see my husband and take care of my life. I knew intellectually that I needed a break, but emotionally, I couldn’t let go of my responsibility.  In short, I was determined not to abandon my family in need. – thecaregiverspace.org

But as difficult as it may seem to “let go” of that control – it’s what is actually best for not only yourself (the caregiver) but the elderly person(s) that you are trying to care for. 

My recommendation is to widen the net as much as possible as far as whom to ask for help.  Having as many people on your list as possible will help greatly by not putting too much responsibility on just a few individuals.

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 an aide.  Chances are that your parents or their friends know someone who had a a very good aide that they can recommend.
  • 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 ElderHelpers.org 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.
  • 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 up to 3 years)
    Read more about When To Call Hospice For Help

3. Create And Follow A Schedule For Everything

One way to give yourself a sense of “control” over your current situation is to create a schedule and follow that schedule.  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 – finish laundry
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

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.

4. Establish Rules of The Household For Everyone To Follow

Every household runs smoother if everyone involved knows the rules.  So, whether you are caring for your parents daily, or moving in with them (or them with you) or even if you are caring for them long distance – having a set of rules can help greatly.

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 with Dementia or Alzheimer’s (and other head injuries as well) and it always worked out so very well. 

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 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. 

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.

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. – caregiver.org

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.”BrainyQuote.com
  • 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.

Believe me – others want to help you – they just don’t always know how. 

So, share your fears and your thoughts during this time and share your caregiving responsibilities – you and your senior parent(s) will be much better off and will be able to enjoy these final years in a better place!

Some Books I Can Recommend

Put Your Mask On First: The Caregiver’s Guide To Self Care by Dr. Gary Bradt and Scott Silknitter

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver’s Guide To Finding Freedom In The Midst Of Overwhelm by Loren M. Gelberg-Goff

Caring For A Loved One With Dementia: A Mindfulness-Based Guide For Reducing Stress And Making the Best Of Your Journey Together by Marguerite Manteau-Rao LCSW and Kevin Barrows, MD

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