The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone age 18 and older who is ill or has a disability; an estimated 21% of households in the United States are impacted by caregiving responsibilities; and unpaid caregivers provide an estimated 90% of the long-term care (IOM, 2008).
It is estimated that one in eight people are now official caring for an aging parent. Edward Francis, a Living Well collaborator, at Forest Health Care estimates that this is a result of the baby boom years combining with improved healthcare and an increase in the average life expectancy. This responsibility may come to these caregivers suddenly or it may become a gradual, progressive path of commitment. It requires a change to your mindset, no longer are you the child, you now need to take care of your parents as they have always done for you.
It can be a challenging experience to be a caregiver for a parent dealing with memory loss that eventually materializes in dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Illness can cause a gentle shift in roles but it is a lot moiré difficult when an accident changes the situation dramatically in moments. This is often the case as elder people are more prone to injury and a broken hip can have a serious impact on their ability to care for themselves. The role reversal can be exceptionally difficult for those who were never that close to their parents but do feel the need to care for them.
It can be very difficult to make the right decision in either your own eyes or your parent’s eyes and you may bear the brunt of a parent’s frustration. For your role as caregiver to work you need to accept that you are now responsible for the decisions and care of your parent.
It can be tempting to visit your parent every day or even multiple times during the day. In reality this will make the process far more difficult. You will end up physically and emotionally exhausted whilst emphasizing your parent’s dependence on you. It can be very difficult to find the right balance between being there and making the best decisions whilst providing them some space to be as independent as possible. It is essential for your own survival to maintain a balance between caring, time for yourself and your own family commitments.
From the moment you start caring for your parent you will have to start thinking about the future. If their condition deteriorates will they need additional caregivers, professional homecare, or perhaps assisted living facilities are the way to go; after all one size does not fit all.
The harsh reality of knowing your parents have a finite amount of time left will combine with concerns over the future, this can become a serious burden and it is essential you share the responsibility as much as possible.
Strengths and weaknesses
Like anyone you have areas of expertise and areas which you are not so knowledgeable or good at. You may be more sympathetic than your siblings or more financially orientated and it is important to utilize the skills you have. Knowing your areas of weakness and accepting that someone else can do that part better is a better way of caring for your parent and yourself than attempting to do it all on your own.
Dealing with a parent experiencing memory loss
One of the most challenging and draining aspects of being a caregiver is when your parent starts to lose their memory. It can feel that day by day they are drifting away from you and you are losing one of the people who have always inspired you and have always been there for you. It is essential to focus on the positives; a memory problem is probably more of an issue to you than to them. Encourage them to visualize their past by using photographs and talking to them, cherish the moments you have and the experience will be rewarding instead of challenging.
Both the caregiver and the parent need to have a good network of support. You need to be able to vent your frustrations and gain advice from others to ensure you know you are doing the best possible for your parent. Your parent needs to remain in contact with as many people as possible to avoid loneliness and frustration building up and making the situation worse.
Every situation will be slightly different but it will always be a challenging time and a difficult journey. Your feelings and emotions will be tested to the limit but the ultimate reward will be worth it; knowing that you were there for your parents when needed and did the best you could, after exploring all the alternatives you could have. Look for consultation with the experts in the field, even if it is a long journey, you are not alone.