By Alison Wood, Contributing Writer
Most of us who take on the responsibility of caring for an elderly parent (or in some cases, both parents) would admit the experience can prove challenging. And it’s challenging, not because we don’t love our parents, but because we do.
Let’s look at some of the key ways caring for an elderly parent can impact our lives.
The need — real or perceived — for constant care
The level of care a parent needs and must receive depends greatly on any health issues he or she might have. Those issues could demand continuous, constant care. However, even if they don’t need you physically present all the time, you might start living your life as though they do. You are very aware that you could be called upon at any time, day or night. You worry that they might have a fall or be taken ill. And you feel you can’t take any time away from them — whether that be for a vacation or if you are feeling sick yourself.
The impact on your own family life
The responsibilities of caregiving can have a big impact on you and your own life. You might need to spend a large chunk of your day in a caregiving capacity. If you are a parent yourself, you might feel these caregiving tasks take away from your ability to care for your children. You have become a part of what is known as the “Sandwich Generation” — those responsible for the care of both younger and older family members, leaving the caregiver caught in the middle. (To learn more about the challenges that face the Sandwich Generation, CLICK HERE to read our article, “Are you part of the Sandwich Generation?“
The social, financial, and career ramifications
Whether you are a parent yourself or not, another big concern is the impact your caregiving responsibilities can have on your own personal and social life, as well as on your career and finances.
If you are caregiving, the time you used to use on social activities and interaction might now be prioritized in a much different manner. No longer can you do things spontaneously on a lark. For example, you can’t in good conscience drop your caregiving task of making dinner for your mother in favor of going out with your friends.
The loss of being social could eventually translate further into the loss of friends or even the loss of more serious relationships. A romantic partner might not understand or want to accept that time formerly reserved for them —once plentiful and perhaps even on demand — now has limitations and is earmarked for a completely different person.
Caregiving might also mean not only having less time to devote to work, but even giving up your career or job completely. This will have a huge impact on your immediate finances. But what a lot of people forget is the fact that this can also impact your future retirement finances, in terms of years lost for social security contributions and pension purposes.
The toll of personal caregiving tasks
Caring for an elderly parent can mean you need to step out of the role of being your parent’s child into the role of parenting your parent. Taking on the associated personal tasks can take a significant emotional toll on the caregiver.
For example, you might be in a situation where you need to feed your mom or dad, take them to the toilet, or even carry out nursing duties. This won’t be easy for you — nor is it easy for a parent to accept, as they too once had a very different, much more independent role.
If your parent is not very mobile, you might also find caring for them to be quite physically demanding, particularly if they need help standing, walking, bathing, and getting in and out of bed. And, you might find yourself doing this at an age when such physical exertion could put a strain on your own body as well.
The emotional impact
Because the relationship between you and your parent can be such a close one, it is easy to be impatient with each other. Your mom or dad may take their own negative feelings out on you. They might speak more harshly to you than they would to someone they know less intimately. This is understandable, as the situation makes life difficult for both sides — but understanding doesn’t necessarily make verbal and emotional abuse any easier to accept when it happens.
You could find own self in grief, as you mourn the loss of the previous relationship you had with your parent. Once upon a time, the two of you would have talked about all sorts of subjects and had fun together. Undoubtedly, you would have turned to your parent for support and words of advice. Now, you find yourself within a situation that’s all about the practicalities of daily life. The responsibility of offering support rests very much — and perhaps solely — on you.
Taking on the additional responsibility of caring for an elderly parent can lead to caregiver burnout. You can get weighed down by your caregiving responsibilities and find it difficult to feel positive about the future. You might not eat or sleep well. You might worry about your parent, even when you are taking a break. You might believe that taking any time off for yourself is an impossibility! If you feel you are burning out, be sure to read our article on dealing with caregiver burnout, which offers several ways to improve your situation.
Is there a solution?
If you are caring for an elderly parent, it’s important that you not feel alone. When possible, reach out to other family members to see if they can help, or research what additional financial or practical support is available to you. Be sure to CLICK HERE to browse and search our “News You Can Use” blog articles, many of which offer great ideas to help make your life as a caregiver better.
One very viable solution is in-home care. If you live in the Chicago area, you’ll want to turn to us at Care & Comfort at Home. We can support you as much or as little as needed. We provide respite care, so that when you are sick or need to take a vacation, you’ll be able to rest assured that your parent is still in good hands. (Learn more about respite care by clicking HERE.) Our care is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Here at Care & Comfort at Home, we are ready to help. Contact us for a FREE in-home consultation, so we can fully assess the needs of your loved one, and so you can discover how our in-home care services can help you care for your mom and/or dad — as well as care for yourself.