If you’re still responsible for your adult children and have the additional burden of caring for an elderly parent, you fall into the category called the “sandwich generation.” The expenses of a college education, the weak job market and the high cost of living all contribute to the phenomenon of children returning to the nest after leaving shortly after high school. Whether they live under your roof or just rely on you for financial and emotional support, you will feel the weight of giving them the things they need. And, if you have the responsibility of being a caregiver to an elderly parent, you have a double burden.
Caring for an elderly relative can be both a great blessing and an incredibly exhausting proposition. Many seniors requiring care are in various stages of dementia, are in the throes of Alzheimer’s and/or have various medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, MS and a whole host of other conditions. Caring for a senior is an around the clock responsibility and the cost to the caregiver can be great. Here are some guidelines to keep you, the caregiver, whole and healthy. After all, if you aren’t in good health, both emotionally and physically, you can’t give the necessary care to another. Take good care of yourself, including your mental health.
Protect your physical health by taking vitamins, getting your flu shots, having regular check-ups and tests. Enjoy a healthy diet.
Get adequate rest. If your caregiving routine requires getting up in the nighttime, be sure to add a nap to your daily schedule.
Get some form of exercise daily. Thirty minutes is enough to keep you active and healthy.
Allow yourself the enjoyment of your favorite hobbies and pastimes. That may include reading, gardening, playing tennis or golf or knitting and crocheting.
Allow yourself time with good friends on a regular basis. Get out, enjoy, find reasons to laugh.
Be watchful for signs of depression. Carrying a heavy emotional burden can creep up on you personal mental health. Awareness of the signs of depression is a huge means of preventing its foothold in your life.
Some of the major issues that arise in the effort to give high-quality care to an ailing senior include the following:
Responsibility to make decisions for the senior concerning his or her well-being. This may include taking over finances, making end of life decisions, monitoring activities to maintain safety and more.
The stress of caring for another person around the clock. You may lose much-needed sleep and have to forego many opportunities to make your own choices for the way you spend your time.
Problem solving when it comes to diet, exercise, medication, activity levels and a whole list of other issues related to the senior.
Knowing when to seek outside help or advice of professionals. How often do you schedule doctor appointments for your senior? How and when do you make changes in diet, medications and activities?
Guilt of blame when the senior is not happy, content, or feeling well. Or, guilt when you feel resentments related to the time and energy invested in the care.
Exhaustion due to the stress, sleep-loss and the demands of caregiving.
Studies have shown that there are positive ways to combat the above list of stressors. Having regular respite care, freeing the caregiver to have personal time is one way to keep the caregiver healthy. Outside help in the form of meals, household chores, pet care of babysitting for children in the home are other ways that friends and family can support the caregiver. Those caregivers who rely on faith in God for their strength and world view are better able to give quality care while finding a balance in their own personal well-being. Finding ways to be thankful in spite of challenging situations is a key to personal happiness.
You’ll find a wealth of information for caregivers on the two websites below. Go to the Mental Health America site to take a screening test for depression.