Lightening The Load: Taking Care of Ageing Parents

When faced with the daunting reality of looking after ageing parents, it’s understandable that you might feel like the weight of the whole world is on your shoulders.  It can be a very stressful and demanding task. Not just practically, but emotionally as well.  Perhaps this is the reason so many people choose to outsource the care of their ageing parents to a professional. Indeed, with the best will in the world, there’s a limit to how much you can do.  No matter how hard you try, you’re unlikely to be able to take full care of all their needs.  This is made even more challenging if the person you are caring for has dementia, as, within this, it will feel like your parent has been robbed of them being them.  

Emotional Distress

Emotional Distress can be heartbreaking to deal with. Whilst it wouldn’t be fair to suggest you pull away and distance yourself from the emotional distress of caring for someone with dementia. It is reasonable to consider the emotional toll this will play and to work out how to take care of yourself in this situation as well as taking care of them.

Interestingly, a lot of times, we prioritise the medical needs of those we care about above all else, and while this is reasonable, it’s important to note that one of the most vital areas that are overlooked when taking care of elderly parents is that of their emotional and social needs.

One of the significant problems older adults face is that of loneliness.  Indeed, the impact of isolation can be more debilitating to some people than their physical ailments.  The pain associated with arthritis, for instance, can be crippling, yet the emotional pain that comes from loneliness can cause such despair that it causes deep depression where people lose the will to live - as they feel ‘what’s the point’. Fish oil supplements have provided many with enormous relief for arthritis suffers.

In reality, if a person’s life is just that of watching daytime television, eating a ready meal, and living in a life of both physical pain due to their condition and emotional demanding due to the isolation they feel - it isn’t much of a life.

Being A Caregiver

In this sense, we often take it on our shoulders and feel like we could or should be doing more. As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of your oxygen mask first, in the sense that you must have balance in your life. Ensure that you are tending to your individual needs as well as those of your parents, as otherwise not only will you feel depleted and worn out but you’ll start to find yourself feeling resentful.

Without question, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on your shoulders - mainly if you are an only child or the primary caregiver - and within this, you have an additional responsibility that can be very taxing.  You, therefore, must prioritise self-care and managing your work-life balance, factoring in as much “you time” as possible - because otherwise, you will feel like you are living your life for other people.

You need to understand that there’s an intrinsic limit to how much you can take on.  No matter how hard you try, you’re unlikely to be able to take full care of your ageing parent's needs; particularly their social and emotional needs.  

Dealing With Isolation

The most frustrating thing for both yourself, and the person you are looking after, is when you are running around at breakneck speed trying to get everything is done, such as picking up prescriptions, groceries, and then preparing lunch and having to help them in the shower.  When you are spending time together, it becomes very functional and isn’t the ‘quality time’ people need to feel loved and cared about.

As discussed, one of the significant challenges elderly people face is that of loneliness and a feeling of isolation - that one visit of you coming in with groceries, each day, might be something that person is living for, in the sense that might be their only aspect of human contact - and this isn’t healthy.  

Therefore, in this article we’re going to take a look at how to lighten your load so that when you do spend time together, it’s quality time rather than transactional time:

Daily Medical Care

There is a necessary component of care that goes beyond emotional, and some could say is more fundamental, which is the need of medical care (i.e. nurses treating leg ulcers) and personal care (i.e. bathing and sanitation).  It’s vital you realise there’s a limit to what you can do yourself, and also be mindful of the boundaries of your parent and yourself regarding dignity - for instance; many people would prefer a stranger wipes their bottom than their own son.

Paid Companionship

A companion can provide significant relief for both you and your parent.  The most important thing when searching for a friend, however, is to ensure a genuine peer-to-peer connection that facilitates natural rapport rather than awkward or strained conversation.

Daycare

There are plenty of daycare facilities available to most people, and these provide an essential social environment that keeps your parents mind active and engaged.  This can be one of the best remedies for loneliness, though you want to make sure the daycare facilities and vibe are aligned with what your parents wish to… as otherwise, it’s going to lead to frustration and resentment.

In summary, taking care of elderly parents can be a very challenging and onerous task that can feel like a bottomless pit of requests and demands that can leave you feeling drained.  When you feel drained, you tend to be less gregarious and warm - meaning the quality time that the person you're caring for is likely to become more transactional time.

Think about lightening your load and ensure that you are not the one source of their social connection.  Many people might not like the idea of going to ‘daycare’, as they don’t want to be perceived as “old”, yet, once they get over that threshold, it’s in incredible to see the difference in their mood and happiness levels. Collaboration.