My story is fairly routine. Many of you will relate. I’m a baby boomer. My parents are from the WWII generation. My father served in the Army Air Corp and fought in the Pacific theater. My mother was a Rosie the Riveter. She tore down air plane engines on a base in New Mexico. They met on base, fell in love, and they have been married for 64 years. They have been blessed with long lives. The downside of this fairytale is the stress involved in taking care of my elderly parents.
About 10 years ago their health began to decline. I am the only one of their children living in their city. Needless to say, the majority of the responsibility for caring for them has fallen to me. Caring for them is an honor. But, it is not without stress. In fact, it is one of the most stressful things I have coped with in my life. When I started this 10 years ago, there weren’t a lot of resources easily available.
Many of you are in the same situation as I had found myself in. We all lead busy lives. When we need to become the care givers for our beloved old people, our lives become even busier. I felt like I was doing it all. I began to feel like a rubber band stretched so tight, any more pressure and I would snap!
Caregivers deal with so much stress. It isn’t uncommon for the caregiver to get sick themselves. It happened to me. I developed a life threatening health issue myself. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It forced me to find other ways to deal with my parents and the stress of caring for them.
I wanted to share with you a few tips on how I alleviate some of the stress of being the main caregiver.
1. I found out, I wasn’t alone. There is so much more help for the elderly, and their caregivers, these days. There are numerous resources available. My father is a veteran and the Veterans Administration was very helpful. Aging veterans is their expertise. I feel, they really care for their veterans. They have, also, heard it all and seen it all.
There are many agencies that deal with aging which are as close as the phone book or Internet. Doctors who deal with geriatric patients are a great source for setting up services. They can help point you in the right direction for services. Many of these services will need a doctor’s referral for medicare to help with the costs.
Implementing these services took some of the stressful pressure off of me. An interest side effect of this, the trained professionals dealt with Mom and Dad on a completely different level then I could. They were the professional and my parents listen to them.
One of the most incredible service available in our city is seniors taking care of seniors. Retired people who have a talent or service they wish to offer are available to do many tasks around the house such as plumbing, electrical, yard work, etc. They take little, sometimes, no pay depending on the service provided. What loving and dedicated people!
2. I had to take time for myself. I know many of you have traveled by air to get to your destination. The flight attendant always has a demonstration at the beginning of the flight. They show you how to put on your air mask. They explain, you should always put your mask on first before you help those that can’t do it themselves. If you can’t breath and become incapacitated, you won’t be able to help others.
Taking care of Mom and Dad is very similar. If you don’t take time to unwind you will burn out and get sick. Taking time for yourself is like the life sustaining oxygen mask on your air flight. Spend time with friends, paint, read, or whatever you do to relax. Be careful of too many cocktails. Those can be an area of trouble no one wants to be in.
3. I found out I was too capable. I was doing too many things for them. Our goal was to keep them in their home as long as possible. I found out, when I did so many things for them, they let me. It became counter productive. They grew less independent and relied on me too much. Just like teaching a child to tie their shoe. If you always tie their shoe, they will never remember how to do it themselves. With our parents, if we always take care of it, they will soon forget how to do it and slide into dependence.
Be watchful, if things aren’t being done, it is time to step in and take over or delegate the task to someone else. Be careful in this area. Letting our parents do their own tasks can feel like watching our children learn to do their jobs around the house. We may feel compelled to snatch it away from them and do it for them. It seems easier and more efficient for us to do the task, then wait for them to do it. That attitude leads to controlling and whittles away at their self esteem.
Our parents will not always be with us. It is up to us, the caregivers, to learn how to keep our stress levels lower. Some day, when they are gone, we can look back on our care giving days with fond memories of being in their lives when they needed us the most. caregiver jobs