10 Reasons Why Caring for Aging Parents Can Feel Overwhelming

Caring for aging parents can feel overwhelming. Caregiving is not a job that one applies for – it is a job that happens in the blink of an eye. On the job training can feel like being on a roller coaster with all of the ups and downs especially when caregivers have no idea of caregiving responsibilities and no prior life experience as a caregiver for aging parents.

Situations and care needs change overnight. Good news and bad news arrives on the same day. It is no wonder that caregivers and aging parents or spouses become burned out and emotionally drained by caregiving. Many aging parents want to stay at home but lack the knowledge of what it really takes to remain independent and self-sufficient. 

Caregiving is a Family Issue

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA is a national caregiving expert with more than 20+ years of experience. Her mission is to support caregivers and aging adults in navigating all of the changes that result from needing care and becoming a caregiver. Caregiving is a family issue that is rarely discussed until the need. Online support groups and courses for caregivers and aging adults are available at PamelaDWilson.com

By being proactive and participating in caregiving support groups and courses, caregiving can become easier and less of a struggle. Pamela also believes that humor and laughter belong in caregiving because when situations look bleak and hope may be lost, caregiving can drive one crazy. Laughter, even about situations gone wrong, can help caregivers regain the perspective that even when things go wrong, solutions exist.

10 Reasons (Some Humorous and No So Humorous) Why Caring For Aging Parents Can Feel Overwhelming

1 Caregivers have to do things never imagined

What happens when changing Depends, cleaning catheter bags, and bathing an aging parent is a need for which you have no experience? What son every thought he would have to talk to mom or a wife about being incontinent and making sure that she cleans “down there” to avoid urinary tract infections.

Caring for aging parents usually begins with small things like grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, and helping around the house. For caregivers in this stage, the role of caregiving is simple and may not feel overwhelming. As care needs increase for aging parents due to declining health, the role of caregiving becomes more stressful.

At the time one has to perform hands-on care for dressing, bathing, continence, and hygiene, stress levels increase. Daughters bear the main responsibility of caring for aging parents and experience caregiver burnout.

2 Family disagreements over who will be the caregiver and making the right caregiving decisions can turn into unexpected battles

Brothers and sisters who never lift a finger to help are really good at telling the sibling who does all the work what to do. When help is requested the same brothers and sisters quickly run the opposite direction because while they’re great at giving advice, they’re bad about taking their own advice.

Emotions related to family interactions result in a high need for caregiving support. Because most caregivers want to avoid family conflict, they remain silent sufferers. Having other caregivers to talk to who understand can deliver the confidence needed to confront brothers and sisters about a need for help.

3 Aging parents feel a loss of independence and struggle to retain some sense of control over a life that becomes more narrow with time

Friends pass away, driving stops, and health declines.  Isolation results in loneliness and depression. At the time of life where retirement should be golden, sometimes life turns out to be filled with grief and loss. All it takes is an accident or an illness to increase care needs in the blink of an eye.

While many aging parents believe that they are managing well, this is not usually the case. High percentages of older adults lack the abilities to remain in their homes and care for themselves. There are few caregiver resources that offer specific information about what it takes to Stay at Home.  

4 The health care system doesn’t speak the same language.

Few explanations occur about the consequences and options of treating or not treating chronic disease. Medical appointments last 15 minutes. Prescriptions are written with no explanation.

When caregivers and aging adults don’t understand information or are fearful of asking questions care situations get worse instead of better. Frustrations are on the rise and distrust of the system happens. Care and treatment are often denied for aging adults. 

Healthcare literacy rates are low. What does this mean? It means that many adults lack information about how to remain healthy well into later years – 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Few realize that actions taken today result in the quality of life when older. There is a significant gap between where we are and what we want that remains a mystery.

5 The health of aging parents and spouses does not improve

Uncertainty exists about what to do about caregiving situations. Where is the manual that tells caregivers what to do in this and all caregiving situations?

Don’t be shocked when the health care system tells you that being old means you may not get all the care that you want, especially if you have a diagnosis of dementia. It takes work to maintain health throughout life. Few realize that if one has health issues everything else in life becomes monumentally more difficult.

6 Caregivers give up social activities and friends in favor of time spent in caregiving activities

Life becomes imbalanced like an uneven teeter-totter with the weight of caregiving on one side. Caregivers feel like their lives are on hold and everything is up in the air because of caregiving responsibilities.

Even more difficult are the things that caregivers think they know—but don’t really know. It takes work and effort on the part of the caregiver and the aging parents to stay at home and to remain as independent as possible. Many simply don’t know what it takes.

The health of loved ones continues to decline. More worry and frustration exist when caregivers don’t know what to do.

7 Because adult children caregivers are stretched for time it feels easier to take control of the situation by telling aging parents and loved ones what they must do

Note to self: this usually does not work out the way that one thinks. Parents rebel. No one wants to be told what to do including caregivers.

8 Sticker shock that Medicare doesn’t pay for everything

Who thought families would have to pay for in-home caregivers and all of the costs that insurance doesn’t reimburse? By not talking about caregiving and aging, we dig our heads in the sand, hoping that it will never happen.

Surprise – caregiving and needing care happen to everyone. Caregiving is a family matter. By talking about caregiving throughout life fewer surprises exist. Discussions can occur about costs of care. Discussions can occur about who will be the caregiver.

9 No one told me caregiving or aging would be like this

Of course not it’s just like no one tells you how having children will drastically change your life. Or that getting your tonsils out really doesn’t mean that you can eat all the ice cream you want. It may be better not to know how life will change overnight so that one does not fret about the future.

Few discussions occur about the importance of having a power of attorney in fact to help with care when an aging parent can no longer make decisions. We put off important actions because of fear of the unknown. Delaying any action in care situations can be disastrous.

10  Caregiving is hard and sometimes thankless work

Tasks and responsibilities increase with time. Caregivers want to do it all. This desire to “be everything” results in physical health declines and emotional stress. Asking for help is a solution that many caregivers fail to see as an option – not until a disaster strikes – maybe multiple times – do caregivers get help because of the realization that “being everything” doesn’t turn out the way one expects.

Caregiving results from love. Sometimes it takes more than love to succeed in caregiving situations. There is no substitute for knowledge, for being prepared, and for having the confidence to know what to do in all care situations. Taking action to find caregiving support is an important step to easier caregiving situations.

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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