Caring for an aging parent is a privileged, yet daunting task. Many of us are facing the challenge of assuming the role of caregiver to those who once cared for us.
In some instances, the role of caregiver is thrust unexpectedly upon us, as when there has been an accident or sudden illness (a stroke, heart attack, or fall, for example), while other times our new role begins to take shape gradually. Whatever your specific situation, the following strategies can help you succeed in your new caregiving role.
First and foremost, examine safety.
Does the home environment pose any safety hazards for your parent? Are there any physical changes or accommodations you need to make? (For instance, if a parent’s health impacts his/her ability to walk well, are there rugs that need to be removed? Is it now necessary to install a safety bar in the shower?)
Address all safety issues quickly.
Next, consider your parent’s unique personality.
Does your mother enjoy being waited on when she is in your home, or does she prefer to try to help you? When you visit her, does she urge you out of the kitchen area while she cooks for you, or does she like you to be chopping right along side of her?
Paying attention to typical behavior can be a useful guide in helping you understand how much assistance you should provide.
Recognize that your parent is aware of his/her decreasing independence or ability and is likely just as uncertain about how to proceed as you are.
This is an emotional time for you both, and being aware of your parent’s personal style and individual needs is key to making the transition as smooth as possible.
Another way I’ve seen families benefit is by being upfront about emerging changes.
Arrange a meeting when you, your parent, and other family members can sit and discuss the current situation.
Plan the talk to take place at a time when the family can relax together.
Inquire of them and share your observations. What is your parent’s current home life like? Are there concerns that need to be addressed?
Remember, your loved one is probably aware of the concerns you have and may even be fearful or resentful of their own changes.
Few of us like to admit when we need help.
One thing that is consistent with the older adults I’ve worked with: No one wants to be a burden, but especially not to their own children.
If possible, remind your parent of the ways they continue to help you even as you begin assisting them, and reassure him/her of your love. Having an open, honest conversation about the family changes taking place can greatly help you in assuming the role of caregiver for your parent.
Last, be patient with yourself.
You are new to this role and are still learning to balance. It is imperative to take excellent care of yourself, which will then allow you to take excellent care of your parent.
Eat well, get enough rest and, as my dear friend says “Get Lots of Vitamin F” (friendship) by spending time with friends that support and restore you.
Witnessing our parents’ aging can be emotionally draining, so be kind and forgiving of yourself.
And as always, open and honest communication (even about the difficult topics) ensures that everyone’s needs are being considered. Strive to create an environment where both you and your parent feel heard and understood.
Dr. Traci Lowenthal is the owner of Creative Insights Counseling, a counseling agency in Redlands serving individuals, families, and couples. She can be reached at 909-240-7833.