How To Survive as a Caretaker for the Elderly

Taking Care of Those Who Cared for Us

Caregiver assisting old woman

Baby-boomers are struggling to care for their elderly parents. The estimates are that one out of every four adults is now caring for someone else. In the next 20 years, this number is expected to double. Many of today's caretakers are being referred to as the "sandwich generation." They are raising a family and also caring for an elderly parent at the same time. There can be advantages to this, but it is taking its toll. Caregivers are less productive at work, miss more time from work and are more stressed. For the past three years, I have assisted with my mother's care. Prior to that, I was my mother-in-law's caretaker. The following are my suggestions on how to better cope with this situation.

  1. Every family is different and every situation is different. Each family should work out solutions that are best for them. Often there are family members who live out of town or are unwilling to help out. It will be impossible to divide the responsibility evenly.
  2. In an ideal situation, everyone would agree and there would be no hurt feelings. But sometimes when families start to talk about their parent's treatment options or what to do with their assets, disagreements happen.
  3. Take care of business matters before the situation becomes critical. It is much easier to sign a Power of Attorney, Living Will, and Last Will and Testament when the individual is coherent. Some legal experts recommend the elderly give their assets away or put them in someone else's name, before they need nursing home care. You may need to consult your attorney.
  4. Sometimes it is difficult for families to discuss what will happen as a parent ages. If you don't talk about it and your loved one dies without a will, the state will decide what to do with the estate. Even more critical is a Living Will. Without this, your loved could be kept on life support for years. We plan all the other events in our lives, so why shouldn't we plan our funerals? Pick the right time, but have the talk.
  5. Many elderly people eventually reach the point where they can no longer stay at home alone. Many families are not equipped to take in another person, especially if that person has special needs or dementia. In most communities there are various types of living arrangements, from senior apartments to skilled nursing care. The most difficult thing for most senior citizens is giving up their car and their home.
  6. The most difficult thing for most families is adjusting to their loved ones new housing situation. You are used to going home where Mom cooks your favorite meal. Now you visit her in an environment that is small, sometimes smelly, and there is no home cooking. Bring a few things that belonged to the person, but not much money or anything valuable. Many of these facilities are like camp. People wander in and out and often don't know what their boundaries are.
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Most communities have agencies just to deal with these type issues. Don't overlook it if you think something is wrong.
  8. Death does not always come quick. Sometimes the care goes on for years. I think it is harder on the family - feeling guilty over what they can or cannot do. Worrying constantly if their loved one will have a fall, be mistreated in the facility or when the money will run out. You start to feel your own mortality when you place your elderly relative in a home. Their life is coming to an end but you are not ready to let go.
  9. All you can do is your best. You can't give what you don't have. The primary caretaker must take care of themselves. Ask for help. Try to find someone to relieve you, so you can take short breaks. It would be easy to become resentful due to the emotional, financial, and time demands of this job. A counselor or support group might help. When possible, other family members should participate in the care.

For more information on elder care issues see Dr. Marion Somers' website. She believes that caring for our elderly will be the greatest challenge the next president faces. She, along with others in this field, is pushing for some type of national respite program for caretakers. This may or may not happen. The only thing we know for sure is we are all growing older. If we join forces and support organizations like the AARP, our voices will be heard. Our seniors deserve the best we can give. Their caretakers deserver our support.

Margaret is a Personal Life Coach, Writer and Speaker. The owner of Life Transitions, she helps others implement positive change in their lives. Her passion is creating more awareness about abuse  and changing one life at a time.

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