As parents grow older, caregivers need care, too

Posted July 31, 2008, at 12 a.m.

No one wants to think about Mom and Dad getting older. The strong, seemingly invincible parents of our childhood may now be in need of a little help from us. And this need can come at a time when we are already trying to balance family and work.

Caring for an aging parent can be rewarding, but also challenging at times. The term “caregiver” is defined as anyone who provides free assistance to an older adult, be it transportation, grocery shopping, preparing meals, yardwork, housecleaning, bathing, dressing or helping with bill paying — anything the older person can no longer do independently.

These tasks may not seem like much, especially on an occasional basis, but they can make the adult child feel stretched even thinner.

For example, do you ever sit at work and start wondering if your mother has taken the right medication or if dad has eaten a healthy lunch?

Are you ever unsure where you will find the time to check in with your parents when you also need to take your child to lessons or practice?

There is also the emotional component. Seeing an aging or ill parent become increasingly dependent on outside help may give way to fear, anger and subsequent guilt.

For people who have children and jobs that require large amounts of time, including care-giving duties in the mix can be a recipe for burnout.

But there are things you can do. First and foremost, make some time for yourself. Now that may sound like just one more thing to try and fit in an already bursting schedule, but it is vitally important.

My cell phone went dead the other day in the middle of a conversation because I ignored the “low battery” warning. As my phone sat dormant, plugged into the wall outlet to recharge, I realized that people’ s personal batteries often need to be recharged as well.

See a movie with a friend, take a long walk somewhere pretty and quiet, curl up and read that book you have been putting off. These minibreaks can make all the difference. Having some time to yourself can reduce stress, which makes life’ s obligations easier to handle.

Other stress reducers include making a list of things that need to be done. Then if someone offers to help, you’ ll be ready. Maybe the parent’ s neighbor can change an out-of-reach light bulb, or possibly make a quick run to the grocery store. Winterizing the house could be a family weekend project with takeout pizza.

As parents age, their needs increase, so make your plan now on how to incorporate them into your life. And remember to pace yourself, because you are in for the long haul. But you don’ t have to make this journey alone.

Eastern Area Agency on Aging’ s Family Caregiver Support program can help. EAAA has specialists who work hard to help individuals and families who find themselves in a caregiver role. From making referrals to advocacy to a weekly phone call “just to check in,” these specialists tailor the program to suit the individual.

“Our help can be as much or as little as the person needs or wants. We offer so many services, but the biggest thing we hope is that people will call on us,” said Val Sauda, director of community services at EAAA. “We help people when they are in crisis. However, if they call before they feel they really need to, it can help avoid a crisis altogether.”

What with children, parents and jobs, life is a juggling act. Eastern Area Agency on Aging can help you keep all the balls in the air.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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