HEALTHY COPING WHEN CARING FOR AN ELDERLY RELATIVE
For many of us, this will mean taking care of elderly parents or possibly an elderly spouse. This is a painful, exhausting, frustrating, incredible, amazing journey. Whoever you are taking care of, for whatever reason, the experience will be what you make it to be. However, there are some guidelines that will make the experience richer. Let’s assume this is a person you love and want to take care of. Remember that this is a very scary time for them. They are losing their independence and for many people that translates into losing their pride. Whether you are taking care of someone in a facility or at home, try to help your loved one keep as much pride as possible. Some people would be more comfortable being showered by a staff member than a family member. Other people feel the opposite. Regardless, try and do the fun things with your elder and allow staff to do some of the more difficult health care activities. Help them do as much as they are capable of doing. If they are able to walk, let them and help them walk. If they are not able to walk but like to be taken places in a wheelchair then try and make that happen. If they enjoy eating out, take them out. Even if they do not remember what you just did, as long as they enjoy the activity, then provide the activity. When they can no longer go out, bring the take out to them. Rent a movie for them to enjoy, especially an older one that they might already remember. This makes it easier for them to follow and enjoy. Ask them to tell you all their stories and record the stories or write them. Many rich family history is lost when an elder dies. They will usually enjoy having an audience for their stories and even though you may have heard some of the stories, this time you will be more aware that you may not hear it again and you will find yourself wanting to ask more questions.Go through old picture albums together, also a great way to travel back through memory lane, hear more stories, and allow your elder to enjoy some memories with you. One of the most difficult transitions for the caretaker is to transition from the role of adult child or spouse to the role of decision-maker. Sometimes, in your new rule, you will have to make a decision that goes against what your elder initially wanted. If you are used to being in the role of child, it is very difficult to not “obey” your parent even when it is not in their best interests. Remember all the things your elder has already lost: friends, family members (maybe even a child or a spouse), job, home, pets, physical integrity such as loss of mobility, and cognitive integrity such as memory loss. One of the most difficult aspects of aging are all the losses. The last thing most people want to be at the end of their life is a burden. Don’t make the caretaking a burden or it will come across that way to everyone. There is joy still to be experienced. Don’t forget to get help and take some time for yourself or you will burn out. Make new stories in your life that you can share with your elder, it will make them feels more a part of your life and you will have a very interested audience. When your elder dies, you want to remember more joy than sadness, and you are the one that can make that happen.
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