Dealing with an aging parent brings about an emotional anguish that is as sad as it is stressful.
Depending on the level of care a loved one requires – does he or she need help doing the laundry and preparing a meal or with more-involved tasks such as bathing and dressing – the sadness and stress can multiply and, sometimes lead to elder abuse.
According to the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation, between 34 million and 44 million Americans care for an older family member. Many caregivers find the experience fulfilling – paying back Mom for her lifetime of care – but many more find the experience frustrating and exhausting.
“This is especially true if the older adult has dementia or requires around-the-clock care,” reads a foundation flyer titled “Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout.” “It is important to get help before caregiving becomes overwhelming.”
Caregivers with families of their own face a whole other set of challenges when having to run their households, take care of their children and work full-time jobs. Those situations can cause the fatigue factor to come up fast and furious. It can also place significant strain on family relationships.
“Ask family and friends for help, and accept help if it is offered,” the flyer states.
Taking care of oneself also is imperative. Finding time to eat, exercise and enjoy life not only will lessen the sadness and stress that caregivers face but also will enable them to be better stewards of, and a more positive influence on, the person they are aiding.
“Consider ‘respite’ programs to allow yourself a short break,” according to the flyer. “Also know the warning signs of depression and get help if needed.”
Another tip includes enabling older adults to help themselves, lowering the caregiver workload. Grab bars and walk-in baths can be installed in the shower so an elder can independently bathe without risk of falling. Items in the kitchen can be moved from hard-to-reach places to counters or shelves so it is easy for an elder person to pour a cup of coffee and fix a bowl of cereal.
Anger and resentment can lead to elder abuse as much as sadness and stress.
“Don’t take it personally,” the flyer advises. “If an older person has dementia or other mental or emotional problems, they may get angry or say hurtful things. Remind yourself that this is because of the illness. Try not to take it to heart.”
An array of resources is available through the Eldercare Locator, a service offered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Administration on Aging. Caregivers can call 800-677-1116 to reach an information specialist.
“Whether help is needed with services such as meals, home care or transportation, or a caregiver needs training and education or a well-deserved break from caregiving responsibilities, the Eldercare Locator is there to point that person in the right direction,” the Web site states.