If you find yourself called upon to take care of your parents as they grow old or become disabled, you're bound to find it challenging. For the first time in a long time, you're living with your parents again...and now you're the one in charge. A recent study of Canadian caregivers in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that live-in baby boomer caregivers taking care of patients with dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's suffered significantly from depression, stress and fatigue. If you are in the position of caring for an elderly mother or father, learn how to ease some of the burden.
Recognize that you'll need to resolve the inevitable conflict that comes from reversal of roles. Where your parents were once the caregivers, now you're in that position. Expect to apply some self-discipline.
Strive not to lose your temper if you parents try to order you around, tell you the way things should be, or complain about the way you live. Whether you're a baby boomer or someone younger, your parents are likely to continue in behaviors they developed years ago.
Re-negotiate with your elderly parents the terms of living together this time around. Are you in charge? Or are you the servant? Many conflicts come from the caregiver assuming he or she is in charge, and the elderly person assuming the caregiver is the servant. Consider the advantage of treating your relationship not as boss and servant, but as a two-member team, sharing the same goal.
Discuss what needs to be done. Though it may be obvious to you, your parents might not agree about their needs. Right off the bat, come to an agreement with your parents about what their needs are, and who will manage them.
Get your facts straight. Assemble a list of your elderly parents' doctors' names, specialties, and phone numbers. Get a phone list of their friends, for both your and your parents' use. With your parents' permission, discuss with their physicians their medical needs.
Make a schedule for giving your elderly parents their medications. If they resist taking the medications, discuss this with their physician. The doctor's reminder might convince your parents to take their medicines.
For conflicts that just can't be resolved...talk to someone. See the Resources section for some very good advice. Get help so you don't go absolutely crazy. Trying to take care of elderly parents can be extremely stressful, for you...and, no doubt, for your parents.
- As much as possible, don't treat your elderly parents like children, but rather as people who have a say in their lives.
- Be compassionate. Take care of elderly parents as you would like to be taken care of when you are older.
- Your parents may be elderly, but they're still your parents...and they know how to hit your hot buttons. Try not to get into the same emotional patterns you may have experienced when you were younger.
- On the other hand, if your parents are passive and easy to get along with, be sure to check in with them about their feelings about issues regularly. They may have wishes that they're hesitant to state.
- Never use physical force on your elderly parents. They may be weak and stubborn and mean and crotchety... but they have rights as human beings. Respect them.