How to Care For a Sick or Aging Parent
When Adult Children Become Caretakers
Our parents care for us when we are children. They bandage every scraped knee and make us soup when we are sick or just feeling sad.
Our fathers and mothers raise us to be the walking, talking, often very busy adults we are today. They support us through rough patches, break-ups, talk us through major life decisions, and often remind of us to treat ourselves right.
Parents teach us to care for ourselves but, as they age, mom and dad require care themselves.
This process of giving parents the support they need as they age can often mean providing many of the same necessities they provided us with as a children: generosity, understanding, love, and acceptance.
At times, aging parents may also require financial or legal help. We may also need to spend more time at medical appointments as our parents get older.
Despite our love for our parents and our best intentions as far as supporting them, providing this kind of care can become very stressful for a variety of reasons. Christina Steinorth, licensed psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships, advises that planning the support structure you intend to have in place for your aging parent as soon as you can is a must.
“The best thing adult children of aging parents can do is to attempt to address as many care-giving issues as possible BEFORE there is a need. Although this may be an uncomfortable thing to do, it is really the best thing for all parties involved,” explains Steinorth.
“Once care-giving issues start to arise, they are often in need of immediate attention and often there is a tremendous level of stress experienced by all involved (the aging parent and the adult child). No one makes great decisions when they’re stressed, so as uncomfortable as it may seem, both aging parents and adult children will benefit from a care-giving conversation BEFORE the need arises. This way the expectations of the parents and adult children can be addressed and a plan can be made. Of course, not all parents will be open and willing to have this type of conversation and when this happens, adult children simply need to do the best that they can.”
Along with practical planning, Steinorth champions communication within the family unit as a primary asset when it comes to caring for an aging parent.
“If adult children have siblings, I encourage them to call on their siblings for help and take turns in addressing care-giving concerns. Often, one child will shoulder the most responsibility thinking that no one else can do it as well as he or she can. This type of thinking almost always results in care-giver burnout. Adult children who are caregivers are often very surprised at the amount of help that’s available to them—all they have to do is ask.”
Anyone who has been a caregiver or known a caregiver can attest to the fact that it is a challenging role. Some caregivers make everything look easy.
Some are disinclined to complain about the toll expending so much energy takes on the body and mind because they feel guilty about complaining when there are loved ones in need of their help.
“Caretaking can be an extremely isolating experience so I always encourage caregivers to be involved in a support group,” advises Steinorth. “It helps to hear that others feel the way you do and often, there are some new and unique ideas discussed in the group to help minimize the care-giver’s workload. In addition, it’s a good way to make friends and possibly take turns in providing care so you can get some time off every so often and nurture yourself.”
According to Steinorth, another issue caregivers often face is lack of self-care. This problem also affects adults caring for sick or aging parents.
“Caregivers MUST take care of themselves—even if it’s for just ten minutes a day,” recommends Steinorth. “Caregivers will take much better care of others, if they take care of themselves first.
Even if it takes away a little time from what you would normally spend care-giving, it is completely worthwhile because you will be so much better at your care-giving responsibilities when you feel good yourself.”
Danielle Miller is a freelance writer and editor from the Boston area. She is a publishing project manager and has written articles on health and relationship-related topics for various outlets for several years. She is also a book editor, working mainly on books relating to science, technology, and user experience.