Caring for the Caregiver: When You’re Caring for Elderly Parents

After our children grow up and leave the nest, most of us believe our role as caregivers is over. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 households takes on that role again, providing caregiving to elderly parents or other relatives.

Finding your role as child flip-flopped to caregiver for your mother or father isn’t easy. About 35 percent of caregivers say they have difficulty finding time for themselves, 29 percent report emotional or physical stress, 29 percent struggle with balancing work and family responsibilities—and more than half say their health has declined due to caregiving responsibilities.

Although it may sometimes feel like it, you don’t have to face this responsibility alone.  The National Cancer Institute publication Caring for the Caregiver (http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/caring-for-the-caregiver.pdf) offers a number of strategies to help give caregivers the support and help they need too. Here are some of their suggestions.

1) Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You’re Struggling
It’s natural to feel a wide range of emotions—and not all of them are pretty. Sadness, anger, grief, guilt and loneliness are all common. Know that this is normal and that you don’t have to (and can’t!) be cheerful all the time.

2) Express Yourself
If these feelings are overwhelming you, find someone you can talk to. Is there a caregiver support group in your local area, could you speak to a spiritual leader, family member or friend? What about your doctor or a counselor?

3) Don’t Shoulder the Burden Alone
While it may seem noble to say, “No, I can do this on my own,” it’s not necessarily the healthiest choice for you or the loved one you’re caring for. Be honest with yourself and the fact that yes, you do need help. A few tasks that friends or family members could help with are:
Household chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping
Errands such as doctors’ visits
Doing research to find out information you need
Visiting with your elderly relative so you can have some time for yourself

4) Do Something for Yourself Every Day (Yes, Every Single Day!)
If you pour yourself out in giving to others, you must take the time to fill yourself back up. Make a point of doing something that you enjoy every day, whether that’s watching a favorite television program, connecting with friends or losing yourself in a favorite hobby.

5) Care for Your Body Too
Staying active—even if it’s just a short walk around the neighborhood every day—actually can give you more energy and make you feel better than resting. Try to enjoy some light exercise every day. And make sure to keep up with your own doctors’ appointments and checkups.

Providing caregiving to an elderly parent is often one of the best gifts we can give, with the opportunity for many sweet memories. Just remember: It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves too—in fact, it will make the time you have left with your loved one even sweeter.

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