Chances are you never gave much thought throughout your life about the possibility of becoming a caregiver for the elderly. Even if you did, there’s a good probability you never imagined what the job involves, or that you’d be doing it for free.
But that’s what frequently happens when a parent or other elderly relative needs your care and assistance. You do what you can for family, right? It’s what most of us believe.
Currently, there are over 65 million people, or nearly a third of the entire US population, providing constant care for a loved one. A Washington Post article estimates an overwhelmingly large percentage of caregivers, from 59% to 75%, are female. These women frequently have a spouse, children still living at home and some have a full or part-time job.
Women who find themselves with the demanding responsibilities of answering to an employer, juggling family life and providing care for an elderly loved one often need help but don’t know what to do about it.
Sometimes they think they can handle it all. For a while, they usually can. But eventually, the stress of holding down a job, maintaining a stable family life, and being a caregiver for an elderly relative who invariably grows more and more dependent on them begins taking a heavy toll.
Some caregivers are aware they need help, but feel guilty for even feeling that way. So they continue to repress the urge to ask for assistance.
There are several options available to you, depending on your specific circumstances. If you just want a break for a few hours each day, consider hiring someone to come in and take over the care for a while to give you time to step away and refresh yourself, mentally and physically.
If money is a consideration, and it often is, you may want to try reaching out to other family members who might be willing to take turns helping out.
The most important thing is to recognize in order to get help, you first need to realize you need help and be willing to ask for it. It may surprise you to find out there are many people ready, willing and able to help who just didn’t know you needed it.
Once you’ve made the decision not to continue going it alone, consider developing a team to help you. Your team might include family members, friends, community services, even state programs. Don’t forget to include your elderly loved one as a member of the team.
All of your team members don’t need to be geographically close. Friends or family members who don’t live nearby can offer financial help, assistance with meal planning, or take over the task of bill payments.
Ask a friend or neighbor to pick up groceries or take your child to soccer practice. If you have siblings, try enlisting their help, and also remember that nieces, nephews and cousins may be very happy to volunteer some time. Other, more distant relatives, as well as your neighbors and other acquaintances, may be perfectly willing to offer their time to help if you’ll just ask.
Don’t forget to seek help from your loved one’s church or civic group if they took part in those activities. Not everyone will be able to help, but it might surprise you how many are willing.
If you continue long enough as a caregiver for an elderly relative, the time may eventually come in which you realize you’re just unable to continue—even with help. You could face some very difficult decisions—ones you shouldn’t have to make alone.
How do you know when it’s time to move your parent or grandparent or, in some cases, your spouse, to a nursing home? The problem is that it’s impossible to predict. It could become necessary if their condition deteriorates or they suffer complications, like a fall or a stroke.
The best thing you can do is try to prepare, so that if and when the need arises, you at least have a plan to help you. You should make it a point to visit several local facilities well before you need a nursing home due to an emergency situation. That way, you can weigh your options and list your preferences; so if you need to make the decision, it can be an informed one.
When the time comes that a loved one needs the constant care only a nursing home or similar facility can offer, you’ll probably experience many potentially overwhelming emotions, ranging from worry to guilt to relief and probably back to guilt. These emotions are normal, a natural reaction to a major change. You shouldn’t beat yourself up about it or second-guess your decision.
The most important thing is that your loved one gets the proper care they need at the time they need it. Doing the right thing sometimes means making tough decisions. The thing to remember is that the caregiving doesn’t stop if you have to move your loved one to a full-time facility. Your role as a caregiver for the elderly doesn’t cease to exist; it merely morphs into something different.
Give it some time, and both you and your loved one will adjust to the new facility and living arrangements. But instead of being totally responsible for all the care, you’re now able to move into more of a supervisory role, such as making sure the room stays clean, that your loved one is reasonably happy, and that the nurses and aides are responding to needs appropriately.
You’ll have peace of mind, knowing you did everything you could do for as long as you possibly could and now your family member is being cared for in a way that assures their safety and well-being.