Caregiving — Part 4 of 5

Imagine your child coming to you to say, “Mom, Dad, I don’t think you’re doing such a hot job of taking care of yourself anymore.” It’d be pretty tough to hear. Unimaginable even. So when the time comes to tell a relative the bad news, expect some resistance.

They may object to the idea of having strangers in their home. They may hate the thought of spending money they feel they should be saving for the future. Whatever the barrier they throw up, your first step will be to help them determine and prioritize their needs, and then find resources.

Never mind the angry words and accusations your mom or dad may throw at you. That’s part of their fear in watching their reality change. And be prepared for lots and lots of questions. They need to be able to express their wants and make some of their own choices in order to feel in control.

Start talking to your parents NOW about what they want as they age. It’s never too early to begin this critical conversation. Be prepared for some emotional encounters but don’t give up. Talk to your siblings about how you plan to divide responsibility for your parents’ well-being. Talk to your peers about how they are facing the challenges of eldercare, the problems they have encountered and solutions they have found.

Finally, take an objective look at yourself. Are you prepared to be a caregiver? How will you accomplish this, along with your other roles as a spouse, parent or business professional?

Before you leap into making promises, think. “You can always live with us” or “I’ll never put you in a home” are easy to say and a lot harder to do. And as you watch for signs that you’ll have to step in, don’t focus on what your parents can’t do; focus on maximizing what they can do.
Communicating openly is the best way to ensure you and your parents age gracefully together. By preparing yourself and your parents for what will happen next, you will be able to honestly say: “I have done the best that I could.”

How will you know it’s time to step in? It may be time if you see any of these signs. Your relative:

  • doesn’t change her clothes or get dressed in the morning
  • has noticeable body odour, is unkempt in appearance
  • has lost five kilos or more – clothes seem too big
  • has very dry hands, feet, arms, or cracked lips, which might indicate dehydration
  • has little or spoilt food in the fridge
  • complains of shortness of breath on stairs or after bathing and dressing
  • stumbles or falls or needs help getting out of a chair
  • forgets about taking medicines
  • doesn’t answer the phone or doorbell, declines social invitations, or stops attending church or community activities
  • misplaces  valuables or complains things are lost or “have been stolen”
  • has unpaid bills or notices about services being shut off
  • becomes lost on familiar routes

Caregiving can be fatiguing. Taking time to take care of yourself is as important as the time you spending caring for your loved one. Asking for help is a sign of strength; so is knowing that you are entitled to feel good — not guilty — about what you do. Pause, reflect, and recharge your batteries and take stock of the special moments in each day. You can only be good for someone else when you are good to yourself. Remember, it’s your life too.

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