There are an estimated 65.7 million caregivers in this country. Many have total responsibility for the care of an elderly parent or relative, spouse, or disabled child; many others provide partial care, as needed, to help someone continue to be independent in their own home. After my experience as the director of a government social services agency that included services for seniors and an adult day care, I know how difficult it is to have full responsibility for the care of a loved one. I know about the emotional, physical and even financial toll on the caregiver and I also know how important it is for the caregiver to maintain their own body/mind/spirit balance.
The latest experience of my reinvention journey takes me into the new role of caregiver – at least partially – for my Mom, who recently had a “mini” stroke. The effects of the stroke are minor and she is able to continue living in her own house but, she does need more of my attention and support than before and we each find ourselves being presented with new challenges. She is learning to adapt to the minor physical limitations caused by the stroke and I’m adjusting to an increase in her dependence on me. Realistically, we know there will most likely be greater challenges in the future but, Mom is determined to be as independent as possible and I’m determined to help her achieve that. Fortunately, she lives close to me so I can help her to be independent in her own home and, if we reach a point where that isn’t possible, she will move in with me. She knows I will do everything in my power to keep her out of a nursing home but, she also understands there are things that are beyond our control. We will do our part and the rest is up to God.
I have a close, loving relationship with my Mom and that makes being her caregiver – whether part-time or eventually full-time – much easier for me. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to give back some of the care and love she has given me. I’ve observed a lot of caregiver situations, especially with elderly parents and their adult children, that were contentious at best and hostile at worst. I’ve seen elderly parents resisting everything their children try to do for them and giving them a hard time every step of the way. I’ve seen situations where caregivers were neglectful or even abusive or more concerned with money than the comfort of the person for whom they were responsible. I’ve also seen adult children in bitter arguments with each other because they were left no care directives and crucial financial decisions had not been made in advance. As uncomfortable as these conversations are, it is essential that we have them with our parents as they get older. I’m grateful now that my parents and I had several honest conversations about their old age care. They also got their finances and important documents in order and shared that information with me.
There is a good chance that you will, at some point in your life, be a caregiver for someone. I’m not in the stressful and demanding position of a full-time caregiver but I do know a lot about how to maintain a body/mind/spirit balance that can be applied to any stressful situation. Here are some suggestions for caregivers:
• don’t forget to take care of your own health – eat a nutritious diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly
• find ways to relax – reading, walking my dog, watching British TV, listening to a relaxation cd are some things that work for me
• take regular breaks from care giving – no matter how much you love someone, taking care of them 24-7 will drain you and then you won’t be any good to anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask for or hire help!
• if you’re caring for an elderly parent with whom you’ve had a difficult relationship, it’s going to be up to you to make peace with your history because they’re not going to change at this late stage. Same goes for relationships with your siblings – you can go your separate ways after your parent is gone but, for now, keeping things civil will help everyone.
• if you’re the primary caregiver for someone with a serious illness consider joining a support group
• remember that ultimately YOU are not in control!
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