Among the missing pages in the “How-To Guide to Life” are how to care for an aging parent. A recent Met Life study showed that nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 care for their aging parents. Stepping into the mysterious role reversal of becoming a caretaker for a parent becomes a balancing act of responsibilities to family, work, and self. Whether moving into the role is a slow process or happens overnight, the responsibility, onslaught of information and emotional impact can easily turn into a recipe for stress and fatigue on the adult child.
If you find yourself staring at a blank page in the manual with the questions like, “where do I start?”, “where do I get help?”, and “what do I not know that I don’t know?” there are sound options out there for you and your loved one.
Care Management | Professional Help on Your Side
Our first instinct when we are in trouble is to get help. It is as classic as Lassie barking, “Timmy’s in the well. Get help”. While this journey may be brand new to you as the adult child, there are geriatric specialists who have guided hundreds of families through the process of weeding through the options and creating a tailored plan that addresses the needs of your loved one. The first step is realizing when you’re in the well and asking for help instead of trying to navigate this on your own. As RN’s and MSW’s, Geriatric Care Managers are able to navigate the healthcare maze of doctor appointments, medical jargon, long-term care insurance, Medicare, new medications, and rapidly changes situations.
Family dynamics also play a part in every story of caring for a parent. The role reversal of helping to care for a parent brings a variety of emotions and opinions to the surface. Many aging adults have a difficult time coming to terms with the idea of needing help around the house. Having a neutral party to assess, mediate, and guide the family through difficult decisions and focus them toward solutions is key to a positive process and outcome. The National Association of Geriatric Care Managers has a website (www.Care.org) where you can search for Certified Geriatric Care Manager in your local area.
Care for Yourself
While the care needs of a parent may be obvious, it is important to not circumvent your own needs. To put it bluntly, you are no good to anyone if you don’t first care for yourself. Your quality of life is no more or less important than that of your loved ones. Asking for help from a Geriatric Care Manager and having in-home caregivers relive you makes choosing to care for yourself an easier possibility. Self-care is all about maintaining your energy and managing stress. Here are a few tips for caring your body, mind and spirit during any difficult transition.
Self-Care | For the Body
- Try to keep a regular schedule and get plenty of rest. Consider setting an alarm clock to go to bed, not just to wake up.
- Feed your body a consistent, healthy diet and keep energy boosting snacks to eat throughout the day.
- Stay well hydrated on-the-go and replace at least one high calorie drink a day with an extra glass of water.
- Get a massage to relieve extra tension built up in your muscles.
- Stretch regularly or consider a yoga class to stay flexible and care for muscles that may be fatigued.
- Stay active. Just 30 mins. of exercise a day will help keep you healthy and you’ll enjoy the benefits of released endorphins, boosting your mood and clearing a busy mind.
- Be intentional about deep breathing. It is the simplest thing to do, but pausing for a minute of deep abdominal breaths is revitalizing and gets oxygen flowing to our decision center, the brain. It is a great tool to manage stress in the moment.
Self-Care | For the Mind & Spirit
- Keep up hobbies. Continuing to do the things you love will signal to yourself that “It is going to be okay”. It is important to give mental real estate to things outside of the stressful situation. Consider picking up an old activity that you haven’t done in a while during this transition.
- Process the Experience. Express what you’re going through whether you talk with a friend, write, make art, take walks, seek professional counseling, or join a support group. Make intentional time to process what you’re going through and find your own way of doing it. This will be different for every person.
- Mind over Matter. Find ways to stay positive and focus your attention on what makes life good. Gratitude for the smallest things can be a powerful ally in the fight to stay positive during difficult moments.
- Create positive family time. Especially if care needs are high, it can be easy for the relationship to be defined by to do lists and meeting those needs. If possible, find task-free time to talk or do an activity with your loved one to make memories that aren’t defined by needs. Having in-home caregivers assist with the activities of daily living can play a crucial role in carving out this time with one another.
Conversation Before Crisis
While Certified Geriatric Care s are highly skilled at managing crisis, chaos should not dictate when families begin to think about this topic of eldercare. It can be a touchy subject to approach at any time, but Geriatric Care Managers play a key role in moving those difficult conversations from the hospital bedside to a conference table surrounded by professional expertise. Thinking about documents like a Power of Attorney, Advance Directive, or Living Will, may make you glaze over now, but with a Care Manager on your side, their professional guidance and planning can turn future stressful situations into manageable ones.
Ongoing Resources from Sound Options
Millions of Americans are finding their own way of caring for aging parents. In your journey, remember to ask for help when you need it, take very good care of yourself, and know you are not alone! For ongoing resources, Sound Options produces a monthly newsletter for aging adults and their families, full of hot eldercare topics, articles & tips from the experts, local activity ideas, and important information to equip you and your loved one for a quality life. Click on the Blog Page of our website to join!
Published on November 9, 2012.