A guide to the challenges (and rewards) ahead
These tips come to you from Cindy Swanson, a personal advisor for clients of Fairview’s service.
1. The situation could be more demanding than you thought.
Your aging relative or friend’s need for help has probably been coming on gradually, as they’ve become less capable of managing the demands of daily life–like keeping up the house.
“You’ve been to see your parents and they worked hard to get it ready for a visit,” Cindy says, “but you may not notice that newspaper stack is getting higher and higher, and the recycling isn’t going out. When we’re going to our parents’ home, that’s just the status quo. We’re sometimes not realizing it’s getting less clean and less organized."
It may be hard for them to admit to you they can’t mow the yard anymore or lift the ladder to clean out the gutters. So be prepared, once you’ve committed to start helping a senior, to discover that they may have let things go more than you knew.
2. You may need to set some realistic boundaries.
“A common thing that happens is that someone’s in the hospital–maybe it’s mom’s first fall–and she’ll tell the social worker: ‘My daughter can stop by every night after work and bring me meals.’ It’s not uncommon for someone in the hospital to say they have family that can do all this without talking to the family,” Cindy says. “The daughter will say: ‘I live 30 miles away on the other side of the cities. It’ll take me an hour to get there after work. I can’t do that.’ What a parent sees as realistic may not be the same as reality.’ "
Especially if you’re juggling a career and your own family on top of helping a parent stay in their own home, you may find yourself spread a little thin.
“There’s a point where you become resentful of having to do that,” Cindy says. “You need to figure out how much you can do without creating negativity in your life."
3. Even if someone has asked for your help, they may not always like it.
“No matter what your age, your parent always sees you as their child. You’re still their little girl or boy and they want the authority,” Cindy says. “They’ve been the one giving you advice for 30 or 40 years.”
This sudden role reversal can be difficult for them, and they’re not always going to agree with how you want to do things. Though you can’t control your parents’ feelings, you can work on yours.
“Sometimes we don’t realize our own attitude coming in: ‘Oh, my gosh. I have to go over to mom’s house and I know it’s going to be a disaster.’ Instead, tell yourself: ‘I know I have to clean the house. Today’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll open up the windows and it’ll be refreshing. I can handle this.’ ”
4. Your senior’s new situation may reignite old family tensions.
What’s happening with your parents in their later years is emotional enough, but coming to a consensus about what to do can be rough on even the tightest of siblings.
Cindy describes a typical scenario: “We all know how our family operates. There’s nothing really happening, but there may be underlying tensions that naturally exist. Maybe the oldest son sees the younger son as always getting away with things he can’t. What happens under stress or in crisis is those things blossom.”
Even if you agree to be the main caregiver at the start, you may end up feeling like your siblings aren’t pitching in enough. They may feel like they aren’t getting enough of a say. It’s easy in these situations to revert to old childhood patterns and bring up old hurts.
Cindy or one of our other Caregiver Assurance advisors can help you manage a family conference to work through some of those issues.
5. Caregiving can take a toll on your work life.
Cindy knows a thing or two about that. Not only has she helped coach people through this, but she has firsthand experience. She helped take care of her parents and her husband’s parents.
“What happens is, you spend your whole lunch hour calling people, then you go back to work and you’re waiting for those callbacks. If you’re trying to do a report and making calls for your parent, your 8 to 5 schedule might become 8 to 7. Or you say, ‘I’ll do it at home,’ and you’re sitting there doing that report at 11 at night. How much sleep do you get?”
“There I was, caregiving for my in-laws and my parents, all four of them, trying to keep track of doctor appointments, who was needing services, who needed home care,” Cindy says. “And I was holding a mid-management position in a hospital. It wasn’t realistic that I could juggle it all.”
6. You’ll need to learn things you never needed to know before.
At your age, you may not know how often an older person should get a colonoscopy. Adult day care may be a complete mystery to you. And you certainly haven’t spent a lot of time investigating how to buy a Medicare plan.
“You’re going to run into a whole lot of things you’ve never dealt with before,” Cindy says. “Things that even a college-educated person is going to have difficulty with: Looking at your parent’s financial situation and how to deal with that. Finding financial planners or attorneys, somebody who understands elder law. That’s why you’d connect with a program like us. I know some things myself, and I know several reputable firms in the Twin Cities.”
7. You’re a giver, so beware of neglecting yourself.
People who take on the role of caring for an elderly relative may naturally be the type of person who thinks of everyone else’s needs before their own. But that can last only so long.
Cindy paints a picture of life as four glasses of water and a pitcher: “Your glasses might be your husband, your son, your 14-year-old-daughter and your parents. You keep everybody’s glass full, but where’s the pitcher for you? People keep pouring, and pretty soon the pitcher’s empty.”
Keeping your own glass full is something the personal advisors at Caregiver Assurance can help with.
“There was a time when it wasn’t accepted that you would put yourself first,” Cindy says. “It’s not about putting yourself first, but doing your caregiving AND knowing how to take care of yourself.”
8. Caring for a senior may be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
That reward could be as simple as spending more time with your loved one and finally hearing the story behind that one photo in the dining room. It can be the peace of mind knowing that they’re safer when you check on them every day. It can be giving back to somebody who has given so much to you.
“My dad never wanted to go into a nursing home,” Cindy says. “Feeling that I was honoring his wishes, I look back at it and I feel lucky.”
No matter how frustrating or rewarding it is to help an aging loved one, you don’t have to do it alone.
“There isn’t a classroom you can go to and learn all of this,” Cindy says. “Whatever the journey is, there’s help. If you have to make a right turn, there are people who are able to help you along. That’s what we’re trying to do here at Caregiver Assurance.”
Find out how Caregiver Assurance can give you the support and resources you need to help an aging loved one.
Aurora Senior Living is managed by Ebenezer, Minnesota’s largest senior living operator. Ebenezer is the senior housing division of Fairview Health Services and has 100 years of experience serving older adults.