Q: My mother passed away and I’ve been taking care of my dad. I never knew what my mom was going through; it’s overwhelming. I never have time for myself between cooking, shopping, cleaning and taking him to the doctor. Any advice?
A: Many spouses act as their loved one’s caregiver but adult children may not be fully aware of their parents’ challenges. Mom or dad may simply say, “We’re doing okay” but “okay” may have much deeper meanings than they want to admit. Parents may also be too proud to ask for help or admit they can no longer care for their partner.
Now that you have become your dad’s caregiver, a solution could be moving to a community geared to his needs. You may hear him say “I’m not ready” or “I don’t need anyone’s help” but the caregiver burnout you are experiencing may be taking a huge toll on you and your family.
You need help and it’s important to realize you have to put yourself first. Many of our resident’s adult children tell me this is exactly the situation they were dealing with before their parent moved to Victoria Landing.
I recommend talking to a trusted friend, your clergy or a professional to have some validation that it’s okay to not go it alone. It’s okay to turn to others to help with some of the tasks you are shouldering.
Your dad may need the same type of support system. Encourage your parent to talk about their feelings and frustrations to someone specialized in dealing with seniors. Encourage him to visit a senior center. He may resist at first but so many seniors enjoy the friendship of others that is found in a senior center’s setting.
Ask for and accept help whether from siblings or relatives and be prepared with a mental list of ways they can help you. For instance, one person might be happy to take your dad for a walk a couple times a week. Someone else might be glad to pick up some groceries for him.
Don’t feel guilty that you are not a “perfect” caregiver. Just as there is no “perfect” parent, there is no such thing as a “perfect” caregiver. You’re doing the best you can. Try to lessen your responsibilities by saying “no” to additional requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
Identify what you can and cannot change. You may not be able to change your dad’s behavior, but you can change the way that you react to it.
You can’t replace your mom and the life they had together and it’s important to set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists, and establish a daily routine.
Stay in touch with family and friends as they can be a support system for you. Try to find a support group for caregivers in your situation. Besides being a great way to make new friends, you can also pick up some caregiving tips from others who are facing the same problems you are.
It’s okay to take time each week to do something that you want to do, such as go to a movie. Try to find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep.
Pay attention to yourself by seeing your doctor for a checkup. Tell her that you are a caregiver and tell her about any symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having.
Try to keep your sense of humor. Remember to lighten up and accentuate the positives. Use humor to help deal with everyday stresses when you are talking with your family member. Laughing is not insensitive; it’s a way to focus on some good in a situation.
You may want to consider taking some time off from caregiving by using respite care. For example, at Victoria Landing we offer respite care and this provides a temporary break for caregivers. It also helps a family get familiar with a community without feeling like it’s such a big move. You and your dad could treat it as a vacation from each other.
An assisted living community could be the perfect solution for your family and we find that many do so well after moving. They begin to eat regularly—three meals a day and snacks—without worrying about cooking. There are always people around for support and socializing. I encourage you to first come for a visit to see the community and then bring your dad to visit as well.