Why do you care?
No, really. Why do you care?
Why do you choose to take on the role of caregiver for your elderly family member?
Is it love? Obligation?
Is it expected of you? Guilt?
See, there's a considerable list of reasons - some more positive and affirming than others.
Hopefully, you have agreed to put on the caregiver super cape because of a genuine, heart-felt desire to ensure your loved one is cared for in a way to keep them safe and with their dignity intact so they can enjoy the best quality of life possible in their later years.
If that's the case, you presumably have a healthy, respectful relationship with your elderly family member - who most likely spent years caring for and supporting you in many ways. Now they need your help and you do so willingly.
But even the best relationships can be severely put to the test once your parent or spouse begins to show signs of decline. Those signs may be subtle - or not - but either way, a big part of the stress comes from the need for a change in the nature of that relationship. As they age, and become more dependent, you are dealing with the huge emotional issues around role reversal and being a witness to the passage of your loved one through their final years.
It's important to remember that after decades of being a self-directed, functioning adult, your elderly family member may understandably be resistant to giving up control as they fear the loss of their independence. They may intellectually understand the need for others to now help them, but sub-consciously, the fear is very real, and behaviour we might call "stubborn" of "cranky" could just be the way that fear expresses itself.
And this is IF your elderly loved one is open to and appreciative of your willingness to step into that caregiver role. That's not always the case though, and so you need to be even clearer on your motives, as caring for an elderly family member who is reluctant or unwilling to even acknowledge they are having difficulties in their day-to-day lives - despite evidence to the contrary - is just going to add further strain to an already challenging situation.
And what if the nature of your relationship hasn't been great? There can often be "baggage" between family members. And yes, ideally the baggage needs to be set aside as they now need your help, but that sometimes isn't easy to do. Being a reluctant caregiver only adds to your stress. so you have to be even clearer as to your true motives.
While easier said than done, if you truly feel you do not have the physical, emotional, mental or financial resources to cope with caring for an elderly loved one, you need to clearly communicate with other family members so that expectations can be managed and an alternate solution can be found. The extent to which you can provide the kind of care your elderly loved one needs is cause for deliberate and heart-felt consideration.
Unless, of course, you're thrown into the caregiver role as a result of a quick change in their health status. Obviously then, there's no time; you need to put out the fires as best you can, but soon after you will need to seriously consider how you can or wish to carry on in a caregiving capacity.
If there are other family members living nearby, it is crucial to talk with them to see how much they are able and willing to help out. It's all about creating a "tag team" of support, so you don't have to do it all yourself. It reduces the risk of you becoming overwhelmed, burnt out and resentful.
Caregiving for an elderly loved one is so demanding because of all the many different moving parts that need on-going attention. Getting the right supports in place and being clear with yourself and others as to the real reasons behind your decision to step into the caregiving role will help you to appreciate the rewards (there are some!) of providing the care to an elderly parent or spouse that comes from a place of compassion and love.
© Nancy Glover | Aging With Grace www.AgingwithGrace.ca
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Nancy Glover, a healthy aging advocate, mentors extraordinary women and men who have stepped into the challenging role of caring for their elderly spouse or parent by managing their well-being in the later stages of life. Blending first-hand expertise with practical step by step systems to support the needs, goals, and desires of the elderly spouse or parent, Nancy helps caregivers maneuver the complex and often challenging role with supportive advocacy and resources that equally focus on everyone’s well-being. Learn more about her at www.agingwithgrace.ca and sign up to receive timely information and strategies to empower caregivers and families in transition.