Post by Blog Manager Robbi Hess
I write a lot of articles for a client that have to do with caregiving and the role of caregivers in their aging parents' lives. When I started writing for them, caregiving was a foreign concept -- one that didn't impact me and one that honestly I didn't think ever would.
Talk about burying your head in the sand. Fast forward a few months (I didn't even have years to prepare. Maybe if I had, it would have been easier or perhaps I would have just kept my head buried and thought "that only happens to other people.")
My dad suffered the fate of many of the elderly. He started suffering dementia, then one day left the house, fell and broke his hip. He was hospitalized then moved to a nursing home. We lost him in March of this year -- five months after the fall.
A month ago my mother, who has always had balance issues, fell and broke two ribs. Three days after that she fell and fractured her shoulder. She went into a hospital rehab but it was determined she will not be able to live on her own so we are now researching nursing home facilities. While you may not consider me a caregiver -- I mean, she doesn't live with me and I don't have to go to her house and cook her meals, etc. I still spend most of my waking hours talking to doctors, visiting my mom, being with her for her meals at the hospital, running errands. I'm not asking for a medal or a prize, but it is tough. I am, most days, emotionally and physically drained. I want to take a break but the guilt inside my head (some of it self inflicted some of it brought on by outside sources) won't let me. I want to scream. And I do. I want to cry. And I do. I want to go back and bury my head in the sand, but I can't.
If you saw me in the store you'd never know the inner struggles. If you saw me in the store you'd never be able to tell I was a breast cancer survivor. If you saw me in the hospital you'd never be able to tell the emotional chaos that is eating me up. I have to keep it together -- for me, for my mom, for my kids.
What does this mean to you and to National Caregivers Month? Reach out to someone that you know has an aging parent (in truth, aren't most of us Baby Boomers in that situation?) Here are some tips for helping out a caregiver because chances are they will not reach out to you for help:
- Offer to stay with the caregiver's relative so he or she can go run some errands, grab a cup of coffee, take a walk or just simply get away from it all.
- Offer to help decorate the house. Bring the decorations up from the basement or down from the attic. Unpack boxes.
- Did you cook "too much" food? Offer it to a friend who is in the caregiver role. Believe me there are many nights spent at the hospital so your parent doesn't have to eat alone and by the time you get home it's close to 7 pm and honestly you're not going to cook. A heat and serve meal would be much appreciated by a caregiver.
- Do you have a friend who will be hosting Thanksgiving and is not only going to be cooking the meal but going to pick up his or her aging relative? Offer to either keep an eye on the meal or better yet, offer to pick up their relative and take him or her back home after the festivities.
What can you do, as a caregiver, to take care of yourself?
- Try and reach out to a friend and simply say, "I need help." Whether it's a shoulder to cry on or assistance with errands. If you don't ask, no one will know what you need.
- Think differently about the holidays. In the past you may have been the one responsible for the entire meal spread. Step back and take on two or three of your favorite portions of the meal and ask everyone else who's coming to contribute.
- If you need to cry, then cry. If you find you can't stop crying, then call your doctor. Caregiving is stressful and stress can lead to other health issues. You need to care for yourself.
Are you a caregiver? How do you balance the tasks of your everyday life and career with caring for an aging relative?
(Photo: Me and my Mom at Easter 2013)