In this new age, families are taking care of elderly parents inside the home more than ever. This generation of caretakers has been given the name "sandwich generation" because they are still raising children of their own when they find themselves in the midst of taking care of an elderly parent in their home.
These families juggle many roles and responsibilities, including working full time, raising their own immediate families and adjusting their lives to make room for an elderly parent. Many times these caregivers have little or no experience taking care of the elderly. They have to learn how to administer medications, arrange nutritional needs, and deal with behaviors associated with disease or disability including dementia or Alzheimer's disease. There are many adjustments a family must make and all members of a family must adapt to their new responsibilities. Change is not left just to the caregiver but the whole family system. Children and friends might be asked to help run errands and do household chores because the primary caregiver is busy arranging meals and making doctor appointments.
One of the most intense issues surrounding caregiving of a parent is the parent-child relationship. Parent-child relationships are difficult to begin with, but add having to care for your parent in a way that makes you act as their parent, and this is a nightmare waiting to happen, if you let it.
The first thing you must remember is that you are NOT parenting your parent. Yes, you may be doing some of the things that a parent would do for a child like tying shoelaces, changing diapers and administering medications but this in no way means you are now the parent. Your parents are still your parents and you are still their child and will always be their child. You may have new responsibilities and be dealing with a rebellious behavior, but that does not change your roles.
One of the biggest mistakes a caregiver can make is to begin thinking of their elderly parent as a child. Sometimes an elderly parent will revert to acting in childish way, act rebellious or stubborn, refuse to eat the right foods or take their medicine but this does not make them a child. If you begin to think that they are, then you will only cause frustration for yourself down the road. If you can continue to act as an adult and treat your parent as an adult you will make this transition in both your lives much easier.
One important and useful way of making this transition work is to encourage your parents' independence in any way possible. In the end it will be better for you and for them. Encourage them to clean up after themselves, make their own lunch and take walks to the store to shop. Activity is good for their body, mind and spirit. When your parents every need is being taken care of by someone else and they feel as if they have completely lost control over their lives, they can become disheartened and become helpless. This isn't healthy for the mind or body. Be sure to find new ways of fostering you parents' independence.
Providing care for elderly parents is a stressful, emotional and physically/mentally exhausting responsibility. Balancing concerns for their own immediate family, working outside the home and caregiving for an elderly parent can cause stress related symptoms to the caregiver. If you know a caregiver with some or most of these symptoms you may want to reach out for support or professional services from a an experienced family therapist:
Lack of sleep
Poor immune systems
Irregular eating habits
Not maintaining their own health
Many communities offer support groups for caregivers and family therapy is a viable and proven resource. Family therapists can enhance relationships between parent and child, reduce caregiver stress and increase the health of the caregiver.
For more information please reach out the following resources.
Administration on Aging
Family Caregiver Alliance
Well Spouse Foundation
How to Care for Aging Parent's by Virginia Morris
Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please!: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents by Jacqueline Marcell
Self-Care Now! 30 Tips to Help You Take Care of Yourself & Minimize Caregiver Burnout by Pauline Salvucci
The Alzheimer's Caregiver : Dealing with the Realities of Dementia by Harriet Hodgson