The Parent Trap
By Richard LoBello
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. When Eleanor Roosevelt said that, she spoke volumes about the complexities of growing older. As parents age, family roles can change dramatically. Taking care of an elderly parent is at times trying, yet it can also be enlightening and gratifying. I was lucky to have good parents. I am not an expert on aged care, but I have been dealing with this situation for quite some time. My thoughts may be of some help to people who are dealing with similar circumstances.
Sometimes, when I mention elderly care to others, I can see in their faces that they don't really understand. Only people who have been dealing with this situation realize that it is sometimes difficult to be a caregiver. You are not dealing with a child for whom it is your obligation to take care. This is another adult with varying degrees of needs and emotions.
Are you wondering what those needs might be? Here are just a few: Driving him/her to doctors, helping with paperwork, picking up medicine, preparing meals, doing laundry, giving financial help, moving him, and so on. If the person is handicapped or has Alzheimer's, then the needs are even greater. There is worry and some guilt. There are phone calls and trips to the parent's home. It is magnified with those folks who are "sandwiched"…taking care of children and a parent. Here are some tips that may help.
1. Involve your family. If you're as lucky as I am, and have an understanding and helpful spouse, or a sibling who is involved, consider yourself blessed. Some family members may live in other cities or just don't want to devote the effort. Try not to point fingers, just explain that this is time-consuming and sometimes stressful. Tell them that a little help goes a long way. State your specific needs. Often, they genuinely don't know what would help.
2. Try to keep a good outlook, and take care of yourself. Go for a walk, or go on an overnight trip to be alone with your spouse or a friend. Try to keep a sense of humor.
3. Don't forget that you are dealing with an adult. Sometimes I fall into a trap where my mother and I reverse roles. -- "Did you take your medicine?" "Put your coat on." (I can't believe I'm saying this stuff!) Try to keep in mind that this is a grown person. If you need your parent to be more flexible, thus making care easier, let him/her know. Even though a difficult decision, perhaps a move to a facility is in order.
4. Talk to your friends and family members, if they are willing listeners. There are more than 54 million caregivers who are dealing with helping some family member. If you know another person who is caring for a relative, a little help…or just a listening ear…is very welcome. A pat on the back can go a long way to improve a caregiver's outlook. If you are an employer, a little flexibility with time is appreciated.
5. Involve your own children. Help them to see the good points about your mother or father. They should get involved in some of the responsibilities too.
6. Learn about your family roots from your parents while one or both are staying with you. Take advantage of this time…some day the opportunity will be gone.
Professional services can be of help, if you can afford it, and some things may be free. Look into available agencies to see if there's a match in what they offer. Since depression can set in, perhaps some counseling might be in order.
Maybe just discussing your plight with someone who is in the same position will help you to keep your chin up, and your outlook bright. Believe me, there are days when you will need it! Remember… you are doing a good thing. What you sow, you will reap also. And some day, with a little luck, you and I will be senior citizens looking for friendly faces to help us be the works of art we were intended to be!