Caring for an Aging Loved One
With hospital stays becoming shorter and medical costs rising, more families have to make difficult decisions about their loved ones. The aging population is growing; and while the details may be different, caring for an aging loved one is becoming commonplace in homes around the country. Over 65 million Americans are currently caring for a loved one. Of those caregivers, nearly two-thirds work outside the home in addition to tending to their family member.
Caregivers help in many areas, including grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and administering medication. Also, they often assist with helping a loved one bathe, eat, dress, and use the restroom, but there is much more involved than the physical care of an aging loved one. At times, the emotional needs may be even greater. Loss of their home, health, and/or brain function can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining to both the patient and caregiver. There might also be communication needs, where you are functioning as the spokesperson for your loved one. It’s essential to be mindful of yourself and your needs as a caregiver; as caregiving places unique demands on an individual and on the family unit.
Involving Your Aging Loved Ones
Respecting your loved one and keeping them involved in the caregiving process is both honoring and dignifying for them. Long-term planning regarding medical, financial, and housing situations is critical; and your aging loved one should be included in all those decisions.
Health and medical guidance from doctors, home health aides, and physical and/or occupational therapists will serve invaluable in the transition. You might have questions about how diseases might progress, how to make your caregiving experience easier, and how to prevent injury to yourself and aging loved one. Researching the growing number of assistive devices can also be very helpful, as this technology can allow your loved one to assume more daily responsibility, and to enjoy greater mobility in life.
Communication with Your Family
Communication in any family is tricky at times. Maneuvering emotionally charged topics, like caregiving, can be especially difficult. Here are some proven strategies to help guide your conversation:
Care for the Caregiver
While the task of caregiving holds rewards like precious time and memories, it also may take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health. You will only be able to care for another to the degree you care for yourself. Some caregiver stress symptoms are fatigue, irritability, changes in sleep and weight, and losing interest or pleasure in activities. Without proper attention these indicators place you at risk for depression and anxiety. The following are some helpful strategies for dealing with caregiver stress:
Remember, caring for an aging loved one is a “transitional” time. Essentially, roles are reversing as the adult child becomes the “parent,” and frustration and discomfort are common if dealing with an uncooperative family member. While there will be bumps in the road and sacrifices to be made, the opportunity to spend this limited time with your aging loved one can be a priceless gift.