My sister and I first learned caregiving skills with dolls and pets when we were kids. Then we cared for our children (and our husbands as well). More recently, our parents have been the loved ones requiring some form of assistance or care.
This past week I enjoyed a visit with my sister and my mom, who live about four hours away from me.
My mother has lived with my sister and her family for a long time, and they have enjoyed both the closeness and the partnership they have shared over the years. “Mummy” is now becoming somewhat less mobile due to arthritis. Fortunately, her mind has stayed healthy and active, but her physical needs are evolving and changing.
As much as I’m concerned for my mom, I think often about my sister, the primary caregiver who also has a demanding “day job.” Assisting or caring for an elderly parent isn’t for the faint of heart, the uninvested, or the uninformed. Fortunately, my sister is none of those things.
This isn’t our family’s first time at this rodeo. For several years, I was my father-in-law’s primary caregiver, and our own father required constant care during an extended illness. Dad, in turn, had cared for our stepmother through her terminal cancer. Before that, we watched our parents help care for theirs, and we’ve been close to other examples. Each case had very different needs, available resources, logistics, and family members involved.
In every case, there was some wear and tear on those providing care for their family members. After all, these are people they loved deeply, who (in most cases) once cared for them. Whether the parent remains at home or not, caregiving is a big deal. Nobody should have to tackle this job all alone.
In my experience, the effort often starts small and grows over time – and it has the potential to take over part of caregivers’ lives. They can forget they still need sleep, and are sometimes aging themselves. They have families, friends, and other interests that may get sidelined. Often other family members are a part of the process, and ask to be involved in medical, financial, or social aspects of care, which is important – but can sometimes feel like another layer of people to care for. I often had to recap doctor visits with my husband’s older brother. He lived a few hours away, but was ultimately responsible for his dad’s finances. Another source of stress.
All of this is why respite care is critical.
It isn’t much, but my recent retirement means I can more easily be there for a week or so as needed to allow my sister vacation time away, and for a few days regularly just for fun (my mother is very good company). My nieces go home occasionally as well. All of these visits will allow my sister some relief, and Mom some company during the day (although her favorite occupation is still reading!)
We’re learning about in-home resources available if our mother’s needs change. Many of those services are through the local Agency on Aging, administered by a hospital in a nearby town for our family. But there are other wonderful organizations and online resources to help find what any family needs, from financial counseling to regular or occasional respite care.
If you want to explore some options, you can find all kinds of blogs and informational pages. A few I’ve looked at include:
- http://www.eldercare.gov/eldercare.NET/Public/index.aspx – Local caregiver services
- http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/advanced-directives.aspx – Lots of good resources, including advice on advanced directives for healthcare – a critical tool
The point is, whether you need tax advice (yes, you may be able to deduct a parent – see IRS Publication 501), interim care, or just to know you’re not alone, resources are only a keystroke or phone call away. There are sites and organizations dealing with specific types of care and certain illnesses, and some just there to remind you to take a moment for yourself.
If you’re a caregiver, please remember that you can’t help others if you’ve burned yourself out. If you have a caregiver in your circle, ask how you can help, then follow through.
Even the most capable and willing caregivers need support and TLC sometimes.
- Who Can Help the Family Caregiver? The Former Family Caregiver (caregiving.com)
- Caregiving: a Great Honor (thepurplejacket.wordpress.com)
- Boomers Lack Vital Care Resources for Aging Parents (finehomesdigest.wordpress.com)