Let's be real here. One of the toughest things you will ever have to do in this world is care for another human being. Factor in that human being may very well be your aging parent, and it's even more complicated. We grow up with our parents as our heroes, our rock in time of need, and when the tables turn we face unexpected obstacles and challenges. Here are some of the top tips our caregivers and clients have shared with us to help them cope with an elderly parent.
1. Accept the New Normal
Anytime a parent begins to depend upon their child, a family's world tends to turn upside down. Everyone has to adjust to new roles and expectations, and in some cases, mourn the loss of the way things used to be. Be prepared to feel new emotions, and allow yourself to embrace them without freaking out (too much.)
2. Adjust Your Expectations
In the last months/years of their life, your parent may open up to you emotionally and apologize for past wrongs. They may begin to show you love you've never quite seen before. Or they may go the opposite route and begin to show anger or disappointment in everything. They may be dealing with overwhelming emotions or physical challenges, which can alter how they view the world, and even you. Try not to take things personally, and try not to expect anything.
3. Try to Give Them Freedom
Our parents do not want orders; they want options. They need to have the sense that they are still in charge of their own lives, and not feel controlled by their adult children or grandchildren, no matter how much you care. Ask their advice about their care, or seek their input on treatment ideas, schedules, etc. If you want them to truly feel they still have value in your life, ask them for advice about a personal situation you may be facing. There is nothing that gives them more joy than knowing you still look up to them and trust them.
4. Show Appreciation to Health Care Providers & Other Helpers
At Kind Companions, we know that caring for an elderly parent or grandparent can be challenging and overwhelming. It's easy to speak up when things go wrong, but we often fail to truly show love to those who are doing right. Take a few minutes to thank that doctor who spent some extra time explaining things to you or your parent. Send a handwritten thank-you note to the lovely lady who comes in once per week to clean your parent's house. Bring bagels to the staff at your parent's nursing home or assisted living facility as a token of appreciation. Think of how much these people often do without ever hearing "thank you." Kindness goes a long way.
5. Be Ready for Sibling Drama
Unfortunately, you may want to expect the worst from your siblings. Many people tend to lose their cool when their parents get sick or begin to show signs of slipping away. Fights may ensue over money, family heirlooms, antiques, homes, etc. Try not to engage in such drama if possible. No amount of money can take the place of your integrity. Be prepared for the fights and try not to get involved. Sometimes it's easier to let go of those things instead of dragging yourself through the emotional turmoil.
6. Find Someone You Can Talk To
During crazy times, you may find that your spouse is your rock, helping you juggle the various emotions and curveballs being thrown at you daily. If you do not have a significant other, or your spouse is not as supportive as you'd hoped, find someone else in which you can confide. Meet often or chat on the phone. Share what you're going through and what you're feeling. Perhaps you know someone who recently went through a similar situation; that's a great lifeline for you to reach out to and ask for support. Sometimes joining a support group may be helpful.
7. Take Care of YOU
Often times when we are caring for a loved one, we tend to place our own needs and desires on the back burner. We take on the world and neglect ourselves. But just like the airplane safety guide's words, "secure your own oxygen mask before helping another," you cannot give from an empty cup. Take time for yourself, spend quality time with friends and family, take vacations or just take a walk. If you are afraid to leave your parent with someone, reach out to Kind Companions and we can coordinate the perfect person to spend time with your parent so you can take that much needed break.
8. Take it Slow
Don't rush anything during this time. Let relationships happen naturally and take things one day at a time. You are both going through something new and unexpected every day, and that takes time to understand and process. Allow yourself some time to adjust.
9. Keep Your Cool
This can be really challenging at times, but try not to "lose it" whenever things get tough. Whenever we get overwhelmed or angry, we tend to say things we don't mean. Words can never be taken back, so choose them carefully. Know that your parents often know what buttons to push, especially with you, so take extra care in protecting those buttons. Whenever you feel like you might explode, take a walk or a break. Don't respond with anger or rage.
10. Forgive Yourself (and Your Parent)
Things happen. Words are often said in haste or out of fear. Forgive yourself when this happens. We are all human. On the flip side, know that your parent may also say things when they are frustrated or overwhelmed. Forgive often and forgive quickly. Time is often shorter than we think it might be, so try to be understanding of mistakes. In the end, we don't remember the fights or the arguments; we remember the laughter, the hugs and the love.
If you are struggling with caregiver burnout or just need some help with your loved one or parent, please reach out to us. Kind Companions is ready to serve in whatever capacity your family may need. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Contact us here.