As your parents age, you may begin to notice changes in their physical or mental capacities. Sometimes these changes are quick when a medical problem occurs. They may occur slowly over the passage of time. If you are geographically distant you may not be aware there are problems until a crisis arises. When you find yourself in the position of being a caregiver for your parent this ultimate role reversal can be challenging for both of you. There are some important things to keep in mind as you face the challenges that can go along with this new relationship.
- Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late-Many people make the mistake of waiting until a parent is ill or impaired to begin to have a discussion about what type of help they are willing to accept. You should begin these discussions when your parents are healthy. They are not easy to initiate but it is best for everyone. Start from a loving place. Tell them it is important to you as your parents grow older to find out what their wishes are so you can work as a team to fulfill them. What type of help would they want if they were unable to independently walk, dress, bathe, or cook? What would they want to do if their memory problems increased to the point where safety might be an issue? Who would they want to be there to assist them, a family member, friend, or healthcare professional?
- You Bring your Previous Relationship Into Your Role as a Caregiver-It is important to consider what your previous relationship was with your parents. Was it a positive relationship or one filled with conflict? Were those conflicts resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? This influences why you are taking on the role of caregiver. Is it because you want to help your parents because they were there for you? Do you feel obligated and really don’t want to do it? Is there nobody else that can help? This ultimate role reversal inevitably brings up past aspects of your relationship with your parent. If your relationship was one of mutual love and trust they are more apt to work with you rather than against you in your new role as caregiver. If you assume this role out of obligation you need to consider if you are the best person to do it.
- Building a Support Team-It is difficult to be the only caregiver particularly if you have a job, a partner, children, or are going to school. We all have responsibilities in our daily lives. Carefully consider what tasks are needed to be done. Who is the best candidate to offer help in this specific area? Explore possible candidates available to help. Are there family, friends, neighbors, that might be able to pitch in. Determine what needs to be done and the frequency of the task. For example, help with dressing is needed daily while grocery shopping only needs to be done weekly. Who of the available caregivers has a car to offer transportation? Even if someone does not live close they can lend support. Someone with good financial skills can mange the medical bills/insurance statements. If nobody is available, healthcare professionals are an option. A hospital social worker, Area on Aging expert, or geriatric specialist, can offer expertise. Find geriatric care managers in your area @ www.aginglifecare.org.
- Include Care for Yourself in Your Caregiver Plan-Circumstances can change quickly and nobody can anticipate what health problems will arise. You may initially think you will only need to help on a limited basis. Suddenly your role must expand. It is difficult to juggle this role with other areas of your life. Make time to do things for yourself that you enjoy. It will help recharge you. It may be spending time with your partner, your kids, or friends. Maybe you want to go exercise or sit and watch a movie or read a book. Do these activities guilt free. Have a plan B where someone else can step in while you take a necessary break.This includes getting emotional support.If you don’t have a trusted person to talk with consider seeing a counselor with expertise in geriatrics.
- Create a Roadmap-When a healthcare crisis occurs it is crucial to know who is the person responsible for making decisions regarding medical treatment if your parent can’t make that decision. What type of insurance is available and what does it cover? What financial assets are available if there are out of pocket costs to ensure your parent has the medical care that is needed? Where is that information kept? If it is in a box at the bank who has access to it? When you are the primary caregiver you should have copies of these documents. Your name should be on the bank box. You should have a key if you are appointed guardian, power of attorney, health care proxy.
Being proactive and taking these actions in advance can make a world of difference for all concerned when you are all faced with a medical crisis. You will be glad you are approaching it in a more informed and prepared manner.
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