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Elder Care – before you say yes

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, BCIH

Part One

Life is ever changing, and with it are unexpected surprises and challenges. This spring has reminded me of this, as an elderly Aunt and Uncle have moved back to the west coast and have been needing help getting settled. This event has reminded me of the changes and challenges we went through when my mother-in-law moved in with us. The trials are never one-sided; they affect everyone in the caregiver/elder relationship. No matter how much you may love your family, no one can push your buttons like that of a parent or sibling.

Not everyone is well suited to being a caregiver, and often times those who are caregiver’s burnout or collapse from the “stress” of always being alert or vigilant to the needs of their charge. New parents go through this, then as time passes a balance – new normal settles in. This process isn’t quite so easy when it comes to our elder loved ones.

Our parents or older charges have lived life, been independent, functioning, and in charge for years, unlike children. They have moved and shaken business’, communities and shaped the world we live in. For them, the loss of independence is heartbreaking, frustrating and depressing. The realization they are in the final portion of their journey through life makes for anger, fear and confusion. As their bodies fail to answer their commands, their minds rebel – you see they mentally do not feel like an “old man or woman.” I distinctly remember my mother-in-law saying to me; “ it makes me so damn mad, my brain isn’t any different than when I was in my forties, but my body has betrayed me.”

When older family members move in with you, they have given up a big chunk of themselves in order to have your help and safety. They balk at “your rules” just like any normal adult would do, and while some may thrive on being “cared for” like a child others begin to resist and respond with anger. This creates confrontation and stress for everyone. The older family members have to change their schedule to suit whomever it is they are living with, and this is not always easy – years or decades of habits may be in conflict with what you as the caregiver feels is correct.

Equally, the caregiver has their privacy, independence, work schedule and life altered. Often times the caregiver is a family member in their early fifties, they were planning for retirement and all the things they have always wanted to do; or they are at the peak of their career and soon feel overwhelmed by the addition of care responsibilities – these responsibilities often come hand-in-hand with those already involving college-age children.  As modern adults, we have a lot going on, sometimes too much, and it is impossible for us to wish for the good ol’ days because we don’t really have the same history as a different generation like that of our parents. My Aunt Linda shared with us the following – “Your memories are not the memories of those you are caring for”.  If they are not correct by your recollection, it is ok; you can still enjoy them”. Frustration is not just reserved for the caregiver. However, there are times you will want to pull your hair out or wring a neck.

No matter how much you may love those in need, there are times the situation or person may be “toxic” to you; not everyone can be a care provider, and it is important to know and be willing to ask for help. My Aunt and Uncle have always been very independent and in charge of their life journey. Today may be a good day, or it may be a bad day, but it is their day just the same. It isn’t one I have to fix; it is one I am willing to share with them and help them through. As appointed caregivers we help family members find a compromise – whether it is in regards to the amount of support they need or finding the right place for them as individuals to live were full-time care is available. They need to feel they can trust, just as much as you need to feel you are doing the best for them. Be willing to allow your elder family to settle be involved with making the decisions in regards to their care and personal routine; don’t assume you know best and forced them to your will.

Our own fears over our family members wellbeing and safety will cloud our thought process and as care providers if we are not careful; irreparable damage to our relationship with our family may occur.  I tell my clients; Consider carefully how you want to be remembered and remember your loved ones. The choice is all in your hands.

To a peaceful life transition.

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