by Carol Higgins Taylor
Eastern Agency on Aging
November is a busy month. We honor our veterans and officially give thanks for all our gifts with a big celebratory meal with family and friends. In the same vein of honoring and giving thanks, November is also National Family Caregivers Month. It’s a time to take a look at the role of caregiving and to appreciate and maybe even help those who are quietly going about their various duties as caregivers of aging loved ones.
It’s not easy. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally draining. It’s hard to see mom and dad change, become more dependent. It’s hard to be responsible for so many things at once. It’s hard to cope with the worry that becomes a constant companion. And many caregivers handle all of this while balancing family and work.
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?
Seeing an aging or ill parent become increasingly dependent on outside help may give way to fear, anger and subsequent guilt.
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. Take a long walk, read that book you’ve been putting off or have your hair done.
Anything that feels good. These mini-breaks make a 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 the parent’s neighbor make a quick run to the grocery store. And winterizing the house could be a family weekend project with take-out 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. 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 specialists can help individuals and families that 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. Classes are also available for people caring for a loved one with dementia.
“We can 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. Happy National Family Caregivers Month.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.
For information, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or go to EAAA.org.