12 Most Sanity Saving Tips for Elderly Caregiving
What happens when the parents you’ve relied on for years, who where there for you when you needed help or advice raising your own children, start relying on you for help? As slowly as this transition happens, it’s still unnerving when you notice them slowing down and getting sick as they age. The tables have turned, the roles are reversed, and you have now become their caretakers. Welcome to the world of the “sandwich” generation.
Balancing the needs of kids and aging parents proved to be one of the most challenging jobs I’ve held. It required some very creative scheduling, and understanding from my kids, who luckily were self-sufficient. As the only child of an elderly parent and a mother of three, the challenges of caretaking my Mom, after my Dad passed away 2 years ago made me appreciate the difficulties of trying to be in two places at the same time.
For those of us who are lucky enough to have parents living close by or with them, caretaking may be only a few degrees easier. But for the long distance caretaker – Long Island to Brooklyn, it poses a new set of challenges, as the sign heading east on the Belt Parkway out of Brooklyn states: “Fuhgeddaboudit!” Here are some tips for coping, dealing and retaining your sanity:
1. Avoid Rush Hour Travel
If Mom or Dad live far, try to plan your trip to avoid traffic at all costs. It just adds to your stress.
2. Invest in a Daily Pill Organizer
When they insist upon taking their own medication, but really can’t because of macular degeneration, dementia, or any other medical condition, buy a pill organizer and tell them you’ll take the worry out of incorrect dosing by doing it for them.
3. Buy them a Medical Alert System
Any challenge to their independence could be met with suspicion. When you urge them to obtain a medical alert system, tell them they’ll be doing it so that you can sleep at night, since you’re not with them.
4. Let Them Continue to Recreate
When they want to do chores by themselves, like cook, or take a walk, let them! Just make sure a neighbor, aide, or you are there to oversee them. I watched my Mom cut an onion, holding it in her hand and cutting slices of it with a knife into a frying pan it, in horror. But she just chuckled, ”I’ve been doing this for years” and shooed me away.
5. Take over Bill Paying and Check Cashing
When they receive bills and important documents and are frustrated because they can’t write checks or understand what to do, take over that task. Go to the bank for them. They will be grateful.
Mother and Daughter
6. Arrive Early for Their Appointments
If you’re going to take your parent to a doctor’s appointment or restaurant, give them 30 minutes or more from the time you arrive until the time you get them into your car. They move slowly.
7. Grin and Bear it When they Beat you Down
Your parents will still criticize the way you look, your life, partner, kids or whatever, even as you help them with their daily life. Ignore it. They love you no matter what and hopefully appreciate what you’re doing for them, even though it doesn’t seem that way.
8. Be patient
Enjoy their old stories again. And again. The stories will always be the same ones from 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Just listen, nod and smile as if you’ve heard them the first time.
9. Be Very Discriminating when Hiring Help
Aging parents are suspicious of strangers, even though they are lonely. So if you hire a caretaker, or home care attendant, thoroughly check references. If it’s through an agency, and the match is not working, ask for a replacement and keep after them until they get the right fit. You don’t need your parent’s resentment added to their troubles.
10. Schedule their Medical Appointments
Don’t let them do it. Schedule their doctor appointments when it’s convenient for you. Give the doctor your contact information, so they can call you with test results, etc. Also, get to know their pharmacist really well.
11. Make them Feel Loved
When they get angry at their limitations and disabilities and bemoan their present state, as hard as it is, placate them and make them think of how worthy their lives are and what they mean to their loved ones.
12. Don’t Lose Yourself
The most important thing here, as you juggle your kids and parents, you risk forgetting to take care of yourself. To maintain your sanity, keep up your healthy eating habits, exercise and socialize. Take a staycation or vacation, just to re-energize. Burnout is very common.
Just remember, you are giving back, repaying your parents for raising you. You know what? They did a pretty good job!
Featured image courtesy of Paolo Margari licensed via creative commons.