A person who provides needed help to an older adult, whether emotional support, physical assistance, or financial assistance, is a caregiver.
- You may be calling home regularly to say hello and to check up on your parent’s well-being then you are a caregiver.
- You may be giving your mom a ride to the doctor or the store each week – then you are a caregiver.
- You may visit your grandfather in a nursing home regularly…then you are a caregiver.
Caregivers may be providing many hours of direct care each week or perhaps providing only financial
help because of distance. No matter what the case, caregiving can be stressful. Here are some guidelines to ensure that your time and efforts are worthwhile.
- Your older relative is an adult. This means that he or she has the right to make decisions about her/his life. An adult child must respect that right unless the older person has lost the capacity to make decisions or will put others in danger through his/her behavior.
- Whenever possible, offer choices. The ability to make choices is basic to freedom…so provide choices whenever possible…from where to live to which cereals to eat at breakfast to what to wear. Choices enable us to express ourselves. As options become more limited, through health losses or financial constraints or social losses, caregivers must work harder to provide options.
- Do only those things they cannot do for themselves. Too often caregivers take over when they should not. It may be done faster if you do it, maybe it seems hard for mother to make her own meals, and perhaps the bills are sometimes overdue. Skills are maintained through use and lost through disuse. So before you take over any task be sure that mom or dad can no longer do it themselves.
- Be sure to do what you promise to do. As people age, they often become more vulnerable and become more dependent on others. In the United States, we generally prefer to be independent,
and we find it emotionally difficult to have to depend on others. We certainly do not want to be a
burden to others. So, with all these mixed feelings, the older person may need to be able to rely on you
but can’t admit it. Do what you promise. Come by the house when you have scheduled it. Remember
that your older relative needs you more, even if that is not stated.
- Take care of you. This may seem obvious, but people often ignore their own needs while caring for an older relative. In a time when many are caring for elders and children at the same time, as holding down a job, exhaustion and severe stress can occur. Guilt may prevent a caregiver from seeking a nursing home placement for a parent, or even prevent the use of professional or paraprofessional care. Remember, an exhausted person is more likely to make foolish decisions, or
to snap at a parent in a hurtful way. Even elder abuse can happen when the caregiver has nothing left
to give. So take care of yourself, take time out to do things you enjoy even if it means sometimes needing to say no to your own parent. Only those who refresh themselves can be there for the long haul.
- Your own support matters. Families can be spread all over the country or around the world. There can be deep emotional currents when a parent becomes ill. Some family members will want to do everything…others will do very little unless they are asked. Yet spouses, brothers and sisters, children, and other relatives can do much to share the care. You may need to bring them together to organize the family as a care system.