Relationship Connection: Caring for an aging parent

Question:

Do you have any suggestions for someone who is caring for an elderly parent?

Answer:

Caring for an elderly parent is an act of service that comes with blessings as well as some very real challenges. Most individuals who care for their aging parents are often employed and are working to juggle the demands of their children, grandchildren and other commitments. In my work with caregivers over the years, I have observed a few key factors that help them stay mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.

Outsource
In many cases, the aging parent is still able to perform many daily self-care activities, such as bathing and feeding. In situations where there needs to be more assistance, it’s wise to ask for outside help. Many caregivers quickly realize they don’t need to be the one providing round-the-clock care for their parent.

For example, one caregiver found that coming home on her lunch break to make sure that her elderly father had eaten his lunch was disruptive to her work schedule. She accepted the fact that this was a task somebody else could do for her. She contacted “Meals on Wheels” through the local senior center and they began providing lunch for her father five days per week.

Other areas of outside support include organizations that provide errand services, in-home nursing services, and activities for your parent. A good place to start for ideas and support services is the Washington County Senior Citizens Center (435-634-5743) or the Cedar City Senior Center (435-586-0832).

It’s common for caregivers to feel guilty while others help their aging parents. Many believe that it’s their responsibility to provide for all of their parent’s needs. In the same way that a parent cannot meet all of the emotional and social needs of their children, an adult caregiver cannot be everything for their aging parent.

Self-Care
 Regardless of how much you’re able to outsource, it’s critical to have a daily commitment to self-care.
Self-care not only includes making time for you to pursue individual growth and renewal, it also includes eating correctly, getting adequate sleep, exercise, and any other activity that will help maintain healthy living.

We often borrow against our health and energy when we run short on time, promising to pay it back later. Despite our best intentions, regular neglect of our self-care program will ultimately lead to self-rupture, which is not only hard on you, but also on those for whom you’re responsible.

Adult airline passengers are instructed to breathe in the oxygen that drops from the ceiling before they help those for whom they are responsible. Likewise, as you participate in regular self-care, you will feel more balanced and refreshed as you provide for the needs of your aging parent.

Even if it’s difficult to leave your home on a consistent basis due to a unique care giving setup, there are many ways that self-care can be pursued within the walls of your home. Recognize your need for renewal and make space for your own health.

Social Support
Care giving often becomes an isolating experience, as it may seem that those around you don’t understand your unique situation. You might be surprised at how many other people in your age cohort are grappling with the same concerns.

If you’re working outside the home and caring for an aging parent, it’s a good idea to let your employer and colleagues know of your situation. You will find yourself not only thinking about, but also spending time pursuing care giving activities throughout the work week. It’s critical that you don’t feel like you have to hide this from others. Ask for flexibility and understanding from others as you juggle both responsibilities.                  

As you learn of others who are providing care for their aging parents, reach out and set up lunch meetings or other gatherings where everyone can share ideas, receive support, and feel understood. There is great power in feeling connected to others who share your same struggles.

You may worry that you don’t need this, as it will be a luxury that yourschedule can’t afford. Many caregivers report that they can’t afford not to connect with others on a regular basis.

Again, if it’s difficult to meet others or leave the home on a regular basis, consider all of the support available on the Internet in the form of message boards, articles, and other resources. If you do an Internet search on topics such as, “elderly parent caregiver support”, you will discover a wealthof resources that can help answer questions and validate your experience.

A balanced combination of outsourcing services, self-care, and connecting with others will hopefully create more opportunities for you to spend more meaningful time with your parent as you care for their needs.

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. Please send questions for future columns to: geoff@lovingmarriage.com. Geoff maintains a blog, article archive, Twitter feed, and Facebook page which are available at www.geoffsteurer.com.
 

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