Family caregivers need to take care of themselves, too

Posted Nov. 08, 2010, at 2:49 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 10, 2010, at 2:51 p.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 already are trying to balance family and work.

While caring for an aging parent can be rewarding, it also can be challenging. The term “caregiver” is defined as anyone who provides free assistance to an older adult, be it transportation, grocery shopping, preparing meals, yard work, house cleaning, 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, if Dad has eaten lunch or where you’ll find time to check in 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 the outside may give way to fear, anger and subsequent guilt.

For people who have children and jobs, adding care-giving duties to 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 fit into an already bursting schedule, but it is vitally important.

My cell phone went dead recently 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 need recharging, too.

See a movie, take a long walk, read that book you have been putting off. These minibreaks can make all the difference because having time to yourself can reduce stress, making life’s obligations easier to handle.

Other stress reducers include making lists of chores that need to be done. Then, if someone offers to help, you’ll be ready. For instance, maybe your parent’s neighbor can make a quick run to the grocery store. And 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 those needs 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 Deb Poulton, director of family caregiver services at EAAA. “We help people when they are in crisis. However, if they call early, before they really feel the need, it can help avoid a crisis altogether.”

And there is no time like the present.

“November is Family Caregiver month, recognizing the enormous contribution of families and friends, working to keep their loved ones home and in their communities,” said Poulton. “So, if you know any caregivers, give thanks this month, or better yet lend a hand to give them a break.”

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, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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