It is funny how one person's dream can be another's nightmare. A common case in point is elderly people who have a dream and strong desire to spend their entire retirement in their own homes. In reality this dream can become a nightmare for the adult children left to care for them, no matter how well meaning and caring they may be.
Adult seniors who insist on living on their own can be immovable, inflexible, headstrong and sometimes just plain obstinate. While we all wish to live in our own homes to the end of our days, in some cases this may not be the wisest or most practical of decisions. Despite the growing number of retirement alternatives out there, some people believe that there is no place like home and will go to any lengths to stay put even when their safety is at risk. The reality that is often glossed over or overlooked entirely is that sooner or later every able bodied person, who decides to make their own home their chosen place for retirement is going to need assistance with the tasks of everyday living. Who is going to assist them at this point in their lives?
The natural choice and the one most frequently implemented, is the grown adult children due to feelings of obligation and duty. In fact this job usually falls on one particular family member. The question that arises is why not do it all yourself? You love your parent, right? You are doing this out of love not guilt and obligation. Sometimes there is no choice but consider these points before you decide to take on this role.
• Caregiving can be a full time endeavour and can deprive you of a social life, quality time with your own children and any down time for yourself. Ultimately a state of burnout is not uncommon amongst family caregivers.
• You may not be the most qualified person to care for your aging parent. Yes this point may offend you, but the fact is that professional caregivers often have knowledge of many things that can enhance and develop the quality of an elderly person's life, especially if they have chronic illnesses.
• You may not have the time required to devote that will truly make a difference in your parent's life.
So ask yourself these important questions before you decide to become a full time caregiver:
1. What personal sacrifices must I make in order to properly look after my parents?
2. How will this role impact my spouse and children? Can I still devote the quality of time to my own family?
3. What will the financial sacrifices be and can we afford it?
4. Will my employer understand my need to devote time and sometimes take time off work to see to my parent's welfare?
5. Will too much time off work cost me my job and if it does what impact will this have on my family's security?
6. Will too much time off work cost me that promotion?
7. How much do I really know and understand about caregiving?
8. Will I be able to provide the same level of care that a professional caregiver can provide?
9. Will my spouse or children feel resentful or jealous when I spend too much time devoted to my parent's welfare?
10. Will I be able to make time for myself? Can I make time for myself without feelings of guilt invading?
These points need to be carefully considered as no two families are the same. Remember that when you take on the role, often the condition of the parent is not too bad, but one must be aware that in reality they most likely going to decline in the future. Can you cope with this? Generally caregivers do not stop until they drop from exhaustion. Who is going to care for you? Do you have complete support and assistance from other family members? What is your back up plan when things get too much?
Before taking on a caregiving role, one must understand the consequences of the task on hand and have a clear plan in place for when you cannot be there.
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When an ill person brings up subjects that make you feel uncomfortable, it's natural to want to squelch the discussion or rapidly change the subject. However, it's very important to listen unselfishly and avoid responding with, for example: "Let's not get into that right now. Can't we discuss something more pleasant?" or "Do you really think it's helpful to dwell on this topic?"
Whether the patient asks a spiritual or theological question that catches you off guard or she wants to know about the side effects of a medication, it helps to learn how to be noncommittal without seeming evasive. You don't want her to think that you don't care or that you're hiding something, and you definitely don't want to offer misinformation that might do more harm than good.
Even for people who weren't very spiritual or religious throughout most of their lives, it's natural to experience spiritual anxiety during a serious illness. And it's also natural for this anxiety to lead to questions that caregivers might find difficult or even overwhelming. If your loved one asks, for instance, 'What's next? Will prayer help? Why did God let this happen to me?' it's best to call in a qualified cleric.
Just as most of us are not comfortable with chronic illness, we are also not comfortable with crying. When tears appear, we tend to whip out a tissue and murmur something along the lines of, "It's okay. Don't cry." From now on, continue to pass the tissue when your ill loved one starts to tear up, but don't pressure him to stop sobbing. Tears are a natural emotional release for emotions ranging from anger to sadness to fear, and can be very therapeutic.
When your loved one is uncomfortable, upset, or worried, you might be tempted to utter platitudes like, "Everything will be okay," "I know how you feel," "God has given you a long life," or "It's God's will." While we hope that these phrases will be a quick fix to problems we'd rather not deal with, the truth is that they're trite and meaningless. What's more, sugarcoating reality doesn't fool most people, and it certainly doesn't spark positive change.
Anger is a natural human emotion, and it's important to recognize that chronically ill people have a lot to potentially feel upset about. Understandably, many patients are angry that they are so sick. Plus, their pain and energy levels might make them less patient or less able to handle stressful situations. Therefore, it's not unusual for caregivers to be on the receiving end when their loved one's fuse blows for any reason.
Understanding how and why an illness is getting worse and more painful is intellectual. But experiencing it is a very visceral and emotional thing. The patient needs for you to connect with him on a heart-to-heart, gut-to-gut level, not just a mental one.
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