Caregiving Blog: Caring for Elderly Parents
I Am So Tired of Being a Caregiver
Caring for elderly parents and being a caregiver is a blessing and a stressful role in life. Until one becomes a caregiver, the changes resulting from the life transition of caregiving is difficult to imagine. Even then caregivers have no idea what to expect from daily situations. Caring for elderly parents can feel like being on an up and down caregiving roller coaster. The stress of caring for elderly parents can feel unending.
Caregivers lament and grieve the life that existed before becoming a caregiver. “I am so tired of being a caregiver,” is a common statement because being a caregiver is exhausting. Care is shifting from the medical system to family caregivers. This shift results in a sense of innocence that disappears when caregivers realize all of the tasks and care required to care for elderly parents who wish to stay at home.
The emotional stress of caring for elderly parents translates to stress, both physical and mental. The stress effects of being a caregiver last long after caring for elderly parents is no longer a role in life.
Dealing with Stubborn and Negative Elderly Parents
Elderly parents who need care experience an internal caregiving crisis. Overnight, the life of an elderly parent shifts from being independent to being unable to complete activities of daily living without care and assistance.
The idea of burdening adult children or other family members is an unhappy thought. Much like caregivers grieve their life before becoming a caregiver. Elderly parents grieve the life and the independence they had before needing care.
Grieving and Loss
Grieving and loss may transfer to negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Depression is common in elderly parents. The words elderly parents use to express anxiety about the situation may not be words typically associated with depression.
Statements like, “I can’t get things done like I used to, or I don’t have the energy because I am tired all the time,” indicate possible depression. Elderly parents experience anxiety when the ability to complete daily tasks fades, and frustration grows about having to wait for assistance.
The feeling of being dependent on others for assistance feeds into the possibility of being perceived as a stubborn and negative elderly parent.
Caring for Aging Parents Checklist
The role of being a caregiver comes as a surprise to most family members. Caring for elderly parents is a situation filled with stress that benefits from a caring for aging parents checklist. Rare is it that a prior conversation occurred about helping an elderly parent or a spouse. The likelihood that becoming a caregiver might be a future role is not discussed. Caregiving is a family issue. Families fail to talk about caregiving until the need is immediate.
The health care system is stretched for human resources and limited by insurance and other regulations. These limitations results in more and more tasks and responsibilities are being pushed upon family caregivers. Years ago tasks considered medical or nursing were completed in nursing homes and hospitals.
Today, caregivers are performing tasks that were previously done by nurses and other health care staff. The shock of having to perform tasks like managing medications, incontinence, special diets, and using medical equipment is frightening for most caregivers who lack experience and training.
Sicker and Quicker
The idea of discharging elderly parents from hospitals under the “sicker and quicker” rule puts additional stress and pressure on families. Plans to identify new routines for caring for elderly parents are rushed. Caregivers receive minimal notice of a few hours prior to elderly parents being returned home from the hospital.
Working caregivers face additional challenges of leaving work early, arriving to work late, or taking entire days off work to attend to the care needs of elderly parents. The majority of caregivers work full-time and spend an average of an additional 20 hours per week caring for elderly parents.
The majority of these caregivers are women and experience high stress levels in caring for elderly parents. Fear exists about job discrimination because of being less committed than other employees. Women also worry about losing their jobs as the result of caregiving responsibilties.
Women and Daughters as Caregivers
As much as women don’t like to hear the statement, caregiving remains “women’s work.” According to a Merrill Lynch study, the average woman spends 44% of her adult life out of the workforce, compared to 28% for a man. That time out usually relates—no surprise—to caring for children, parents, and spouses.
The role of being a caregiver significantly impacts women’s lives in many ways. Career gaps that result in lower wages, lower retirement savings, lost promotions, and lack of advancement penalize women who want to do their right thing for families. Caring for elderly parents places women at a disadvantage of being able to financially provide for themselves later in life.
Women Caregivers Sacrifice Their Futures
Society is immune to the sacrifices that women make caring for elderly parents and raising children. Caregiving responsibility is “expected.” Until women give greater consideration to how the role of a caregiver will impact their life, women will continue to experience regret.
This regret, according to the Merrill Lynch study, included wishing that more money was saved or invested. Choosing a career with better pay is on the list, as well as not accumulating debt and living within their means.
Whether male or female, it is never too late to be proactive about saving for the future. Caring for elderly parents is admirable and stressful. When caregiving places the caregiver’s future at risk, trade-offs and decisions must be weighed very carefully.
How Men Deal With Caregiving
Women respond to caregiving from an emotional-based perspective. Men are more fact-based, less emotional, and want to manage the care—instead of providing the care. The desire to manage and not provide care is the reason that the burden and responsibility of care fall on wives, sisters, and daughters.
The coping mechanisms between men and women are also very different. The coping style of men is problem-focused with a desire to fix the problem and resolve the challenge. Women cope from an emotional focus with the goal of managing their emotions with a secondary focus on how to improve or make care situations easier.
Women want to do it all and hesitate to ask for help. Men don’t want to do it all—but step up to do whatever it takes if there is no other option. Many men, when women are not available, provide as many hands-on care, and medical and nursing tasks as women.
Doing so places men in uncomfortable situations that they learn to manage. The first time a son has to bathe his mother or manage incontinence is embarrassing. Having to shop for incontinence briefs and women’s products at the store adds to the embarrassment leading to caregiver burden also experienced by women and daughters who are caregivers.
Caregiver Burden and Stress
Caregiver burden builds from feelings of embarrassment, feeling trapped, resentment, isolation from social activities and friends, loss of control, and work pressures. Both women and men experience caregiver burden.
Changes in behaviors that were once positive turn negative as the result of the emotional toll of being a caregiver. Caregivers experience sleep problems, poor diets, sedentary behaviors, and some participate in abusing substances. The grieving aspect of caregiver burden and stress compounds the idea of burden, making the role of caregiving feel hopeless and despondent.
The risk is that caregivers who are unable to care for themselves will be unable to care for elderly parents and spouses. The effects of this chronic stress carry further into manifestation of physical illnesses or worsening of current medical concerns.
Distracted Minds Result in Unintentional Harm When Caring for Elderly Parents
Stress and worry result in lowered self-esteem and a decreased confidence in caring for elderly parents and making the right decisions. When the mind becomes distracted the likelihood of making mistakes in caring for elderly parents becomes more common.
Prescriptions go unfilled. Medical appointments are missed or not scheduled. The care provided is minimal because feelings of stress and overwhelm take over the mental capacity of the caregiver.
Caregiver Love, Burnout, and Making Mistakes
Stories in the news about fathers forgetting children in vehicles on hot days mirror the actions of inattentive or burdened and stressed caregivers. Mistakes and unintentional harm results from short circuits in the brain and memory. Caregivers think they have a routine.
When stress enters the picture routine and practicality fracture. Caregivers don’t intentionally plan to harm elderly parents or spouses. Stress results in harm and abusive situations.
Caregivers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
Caregivers struggle to do it all and to know it all. The right or enough questions are not asked. How many times do caregivers say, “Why didn’t somebody tell me that? Why didn’t I know that?” after problems happen in a care situation.
Caring for elderly parents involves many skills that caregivers do not have and must learn. These skills include problem-solving, observation, analysis, teamwork, communication, negotiation, critical thinking and attention to detail. Managing the care of elderly parents is much like managing a variety of projects.
The projects include managing care in the home, managing the household, organization, coordinating medical care, communicating with the health care team, and helping elderly parents and spouses evaluate medical and care decisions. Add to this financial management and planning for unexpected care needs. It’s no wonder that caregivers experience burden, stress, and burnout.
Managing Medical Care & Medical Tasks Can Be Challenging
Managing medical care can feel like an all-encompassing project. Not only does the caregiver need an understanding of medical conditions and medications, the caregiver—who also may be the medical power of attorney—bears additional responsibility.
Negotiating with medical personnel is part of the legal responsibility of being a power of attorney. The medical system is biased against care for the elderly. Priority for medical care is given to the young and healthy who are more likely to recover from illnesses and live for some time.
Medical care for elderly parents and spouses receives much less attention unless the caregiver learns the skills of advocacy. Caregivers lacking self-esteem or confidence will not do well in advocating for the care of an elderly parent or spouse. Medical personnel can be impersonal and intimidating.
The Responsibility to Advocate
The responsibility of being more informed and advocating for care needs rests 90% on the individual and the caregiver and 10% on the medical system. Medical appointments are 15 minutes leaving little time to identify and resolve concerns. Caregivers unable to research and articulate results fail to achieve better than average medical care for elderly parents.
For this and many other reasons, caregivers benefit from realizing that they don’t know what they don’t know. Taking action to get help can resolve these concerns and significantly improve the care for elderly parents and spouses.
Take Action – Get Help – Become More Informed
Caring for elderly parents is filled with joy, grief, and stress. The benefits of support groups for emotional support, learning new tasks, and becoming more informed about specific diagnoses are beneficial.
There’s plenty of information all over the Internet. Take a course so that you can become more informed and more confident about how to provide the daily care that your loved one needs. Learn more about the disease, no matter what the disease is, and don’t ignore the needs of the care situation.
By becoming more informed, you become a better caregiver. You are more attentive. You ask questions, you advocate for care.
Looking For More Help With Caring for Elderly Parents. You’ll Find What You’re Looking For In the Caring Generation Library in the Family Relationships and Conflict Section.
©2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved
Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA is a national caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker who solves caregiving problems. Since 1999, she has been a direct service provider as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager. In response to the need for accessible, accurate, reliable, and trustworthy information, today, Pamela’s focus is to offer online caregiving support, programs, and courses for caregivers and aging adults. Her mission to reach caregivers worldwide is accomplished through social media channels of Facebook, YouTube, and Linked In, Caregiving TV on Roku, and The Caring Generation® radio on Internet radio. She also collaborates with professionals in the areas of estate planning, elder law, and probate, financial planning, and healthcare to raise awareness of and sensitivity to family caregiving and healthcare issues.