ParentCare

Be Your Best Caretaker

Amy DEAN

What do one in eight of today’s 79 million baby boomers share in common? They are all caring for an aging parent: by doing home checks of those living alone, paying regular visits to an assisted living facility or nursing home, accommodating a live-in parent or serving as a point of contact from a distance. 

At a time when baby boomers are close to retirement, their children have moved out of the house, and they are ready to start living their dreams, concurrently their parents have aged to a point where they may no longer be able to care for themselves or may be facing medical challenges. At first, such caregiving may be relatively easy to perform: You pick up a few extra things while you’re out grocery shopping; you stop in and change the batteries on the beeping smoke detectors; you rearrange cabinets to move hard-to-reach items to lower locations; or you switch a wardrobe closet from winter to summer attire.

But then the needs increase, your aging parents become frailer or sicker, and those dreams you once had of a life of ease are put on the back burner.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven has said, “Caring for our seniors is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. Those who walked before us have given so much and made possible the life we all enjoy.” While being a caretaker is truly a heroic responsibility, it is also one that can be highly draining – physically, mentally and spiritually. To care for someone else, it is vital that you also take care of yourself. Here are five tips to help you balance your role as caregiver.

Practice forgiveness. No matter how much you love your parent or how good your relationship is, there may be times when you become angry, frustrated or impatient. Remember that such feelings aren’t really directed at your parent; they are the by-product of the situation and are completely normal. Forgive yourself whenever your temper is short, your communication is delivered with impatience or you feel resentful.

Balance your time. It’s easy for caregiving to become an all-consuming activity. Remember that you are most likely the only connection your aging parent has to the outside world, and he or she is feeling lonely, needy and dependent upon you. But that doesn’t mean you need to drop everything or put the things you need or want to do on hold. Set limits that will help balance the time you devote to giving care to another so you have time to take care of your wants and needs.

Connect with like-minded people. Remember, you’re not the only one in the caregiving boat. Seek out friends who are in similar situations or join a caregivers support group. You will find your burden is eased by sharing stories, advice and hugs with others who know exactly what you’re going through.

Create moments of joy and laughter. Even as my father’s dementia grew worse, I made it a point whenever I was with him to tell him a funny story from our past times together. My smile and laughter as I told the story brought his beautiful smile to life, and he laughed along with me. As the disease slowly erased his mind, I would visit him in the nursing home and tell him the same stories so that whenever he saw me, no matter how devastated I felt inside, he always saw a smile. Just the sheer act of smiling made my heart a little lighter.

Feel your strength. Lao Tzu said, “From caring comes courage.” Many caregivers are surprised at how they change, for the better, through caregiving: by being a better communicator, becoming more assertive or setting personal limits at work and at home. Others are amazed to discover the depth of their compassion, patience and devotion. As hard as caregiving may be, it can be an amazing, positive, life-changing experience you will remember – and treasure – for the rest of your life.

Amy Dean is the author of Growing Older, Growing Better: Daily Meditations for Celebrating Aging.

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