Remember those occasional days of despair from your time as a young parent? Those times when you were so exhausted you felt like you could cry? Well, if you’ve taken on the role of caregiver for an aging parent without support, they could once again be on the horizon. Caring for an elderly loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can also lead to frustration, fatigue, doubt and anger. Assuring the health and wellness of a senior is no easy task, and it may feel as if you are navigating unknown shoals as you try to do your best to offer comfort to a family member during trying times. It can be a very stressful situation—but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Accepting the Situation
It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to balance your own needs with the needs of a loved one with dementia or other chronic illness. Feelings of anger, anxiety and guilt are common, and sleeplessness, irritability and depression are often the result. All, in turn, lead to additional problems for you and/or your family—including your elderly parent.
Your first course of action is to step back and regain perspective. Prioritizing yourself and your needs is not selfish; it is a practical move. As important as it is to understand your loved one's situation, it is imperative that you also understand your own. Talk to your own doctor if necessary, and resolve to care for yourself, too. Destructive burnout does not have to be inevitable.
Dealing with Reality
Understanding the stages of grief, the progression of a condition like Alzheimer's, or the consequences of a medical condition is the first step towards coping. Whatever it is, specifically, that you must confront as you try to make life bearable or better for an aging relative, it helps to know the likely waypoints. How you will deal with Mom’s gradual decline in mobility, for example, will be far different from how you cope with Dad’s Alzheimer’s. Discuss all the ramifications of impairment and treatment with your parent’s medical team and know what appropriate responses might be—in advance of the necessity.
Making the Best of It
Just as parents deal with the "terrible twos" and teenage angst, prepare to deal with periodic bouts of self-pity, confusion, anger and withdrawal as a caregiver—your own and that of your loved one.
Try to maintain a consistent routine. If you normally visit your parent for Sunday dinner, do so. It may be difficult, but it may also represent a kind of lifeline for your relative. Try not to take any outbursts personally. Senior wellness can be a slippery slope, and you cannot know kind of factors may have led to such behavior. Don’t give in to the temptation to mistake lack of enthusiastic response with dismissal or to return rejection with rejection. You will only regret it later.
Caring for Yourself
Being the primary caregiver for an elderly parent is no easy task. Financial distress, feelings of isolation, and physical strains can build over time. In order to encourage wellness, both for yourself and for those you are charged with caring for, pay attention to warning signs and take action to alleviate your stress.
Seek out support groups and accept help that is available.
Spend time with friends and other family.
Get enough sleep.
Discuss alternatives with legal advisers, medical professionals, religious counselors, and even with your employer.
Start a relaxing or rewarding hobby like gardening.
Understand the dangers of allowing stresses to build and make time to live your own life. Realize that your well-being is something you control and resolve to remain grounded, healthy and loving in every way possible.