Sometimes it seems to happen overnight. You catch sight of your mother out of the corner of your eye and she suddenly seems frail. Or you wonder to yourself, “how long dad has walked with that stoop?”
Maybe your once quick-witted, never-forget-a-thing spouse has trouble remembering simple tasks.
No one wants to think about being thrust into the role of caregiver but it can happen to anyone. Maybe it’s a gradual transition or a sudden change due to an injury or illness.
Caring for an aging parent or spouse 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, 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 over time the stress can add up and performing these chores can make you feel stretched pretty thin.
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? Do you find yourself cueing your spouse and leaving reminders everywhere?
There is also the emotional component. Seeing an aging or ill parent or spouse become increasingly dependent 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 to 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 mini-breaks can make all the difference. Having some time for 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 so 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.
Make your plans for caregiving now, and then think about how to incorporate this plan into your life. Who can you count on, what needs take priority, and so on. And remember to pace yourself, because you may be 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 need.
The caregiver specialists offer as much or as little as help and support as the person needs or wants. The most important thing is that people call us so we can make their caregiving journey a little easier.
For more information on caregiving, log on www.eaaa.org.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org and for information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, or log on EAAA.org.