Taking care of an elderly family member can be satisfying, but also quite demanding. Having your parent live with you at home may seem like it will solve a lot of issues, but it can get complicated if you are responsible for all their meals, transportation, and if or when new health challenges arise. Adult-children caregivers tend to underestimate what it’s like to be solely responsible for your aging parent’s health and nutrition needs, as well as all their activities of daily living. It is common to feel more burdened than you would expect and wise to watch for signs you are getting over stressed and burned out.
If you are a caregiver, here are factors to be aware of in taking care of your aging loved one at home:
The Time Squeeze
Taking care of your loved one will take more time than you anticipate and create more pressure if you have a job outside the home in addition to doing unpaid caregiving. You may have little personal downtime or little opportunity to go out with others if your parent can’t safely be left alone. An older parent with a disrupted sleep schedule or mealtimes that don’t coincide with the family’s can require much more additional time or cost you more sleep than you would think.
Caring for an older family member with chronic health issues or dementia can create emotional stress over time. Getting your loved one to multiple medical appointments, as well as keeping up with medications, bathing, and other regimens such as physical therapy exercises are other significant time commitments for which caregivers become responsible.
It’s important to remember that, despite the many advantages such as no commute to a facility or need to pay an outside caregiver, having a family member live with you will require significant multi-tasking, which can also be stressful over time. For example, at some point I found I could no longer both get my children ready for elementary school and adequately take care of my mother (who had Alzheimer’s) in the mornings.
When things get to this point, it’s good to reach out for help from a geriatric care manager or therapist who specializes in geriatrics and explore options for getting more help, streamlining daily routines, or even considering if your loved one might actually receive better care in a long-term care facility such as assisted living or skilled nursing—depending on their level of need. And of course, COVID has drastically altered all of these equations, as finding either in-home caregivers or entrusting one’s loved one to long-term care facilities has become very difficult, if not impossible, at this time.
We often choose to keep an older family member with us because it is our culture, our responsibility or our deep wish to do so. We may also choose that option to save money—since paid in-home caregiving and long-term care can both be prohibitively expensive. But the additional time spent caretaking can at times impair a caregiver’s ability to both work and do caregiving. The longer the home care goes on, the more strain there could be.
With these thoughts in mind, if you care for a loved one in your home, think about these issues and evaluate your feelings and stress level honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are resources offering trustworthy medical and psychological advice (see the podcasts of Dr. Leslie Kernisan, M.D. or Dr. Regina Koepp, Ph.D.) and support for your needs as a caregiver (see the Alzheimer’s Association or AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center).
Taking advantage of these resources can help you be there for your loved one. Seeking support from a psychologist like me, getting trustworthy information, and understanding your options can help you avoid these stresses and feelings of overwhelming anxiety, or repetitive worry. You do not have to do this alone!