Elder Care – What If You’re the Only Sibling Near By or Willing to Help?

Years ago, taking care of our elderly Mom and Dad was a different situation.  Many families had a maiden sister or aunt who stayed home with the parents and took care of them until they passed.  The maiden care giver didn’t have another job and was supported by the family members who married and moved away.The families who didn’t have the spinster sister or aunt, moved their elderly parents into their home.  There was usually a stay at home Mom who was available for elder care responsibilities.  Lifestyles have changed dramatically in our country.  Most families have two working adults.  Children go to school or daycare.  There are many after school activities.  People are going every which way and most of the time the only one left at home is the family pets.

What hasn’t changed, is that one sibling is usually on tap to care for the aging parents.  This may be due to proximity to the elderly parents or they just “step up to the plate” and do what needs done.  It’s been my experience in my family and also in the families of my friends that rarely is it where siblings switch off and more than one accepts the responsibility of the elder care.  If your family is different and more than one, or everyone, is taking joint responsibility, consider yourself lucky.  It doesn’t happen often.

There are as many family dynamics as there are families.  Family politics flourish in all families.  When it comes to decisions about Mom and Dad, either everyone is together, or no one can come together, or, sadly, they don’t care.  In my family, I am the one who does the elder care for both sides of the family.  I’ve been blessed with a flexible schedule in which I can take time away from my career to take them to the doctors, emergency room visits, and be on call for any thing they may need in the way of care.

I’ve found, dealing with elderly parents can be a stressful thing, especially if dementia is involved.  Even without family politics, stress and pressure can build up.  When parents have dementia, that adds to the stress levels due to the nature of the affliction.

As their health declines, there are frequent trips to the hospital.  If you have ever waited in a hospital emergency room, you know it is a test of patience.  The wait is long, even when traffic is light.  If he caregiver has a job outside of the home, frequent hospital visits can mean a loss of income and careers came be compromised.  Some companies aren’t understanding about time away from work because of elder care giving responsibilities.

It’s sad to admit, but I don’t have a cure all pill for taking care of them or the stress involved.  I can tell you, from experience, we need to care for ourselves first.  Sounds selfish doesn’t it?

Have you ever taken a flight on an airline?  If you are familiar with flying, you know about the speech the flight attendants give everyone before taking off.  They point to where the exits are.  They show you the air mask and explain the procedure of putting YOUR mask on before you help children and the elderly.  Why is that?  Our first reaction is to make sure our children and those who can’t help themselves have their mask on first.  So, why would they tell us the contrary?  If we are busy taking care of others and don’t take care of ourselves, first, we won’t be able to breath for long.  Then, no one gets cared for and we all could perish.  Child or Elder care can be the same way.  If we don’t stop and de-stress, we won’t be worth anything to those we love.  We need to take care of ourselves first.  When we are always dipping into the well and never replacing the water, we will run dry.  Find something which relaxes you and takes you, mentally, away;  a bubble bath, read a book, take a walk, go window shopping, sit and relax with your pet on your lap, whatever makes your heart sing with joy.

If our lives become so wrapped up in elder care that our wells run dry, we will soon resent those we are caring for.  After awhile we will be burned out and that serves no one.  Our health suffers right along with our attitudes.  I found this out the hard way.

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.  Talk to their doctors about additional help.  They can refer you to agencies that can help.  Agencies who specialize in elder care know so much more than we do.  They can point us in the right direction.  They can talk to us about helping us cope.  They can arrange for services to help us take care of our elder better with less stress to ourselves. And, they can help us find funding for those services.

Talk to a neighbor or someone else who might be interested in coming in to visit your elderly parent while you get out and about.  Placing our elder in an adult daycare for a couple of days a week can free us up to pursue some stress free time off.  Adult daycare can be a stimulating place for our older person.  They have activities to participate in and, most of all, our elder gets a chance to interact with other people in their age group.  For instance, my Dad loved talking to all the other WWII and Korean War veterans about his time in the military. When they can talk to others in their peer group, they feel less cut off from the world.

Most of all, stop with the guilt.  Guilt is a killer.  It kills our health and our relationships. It makes us feel bad and attacks our self esteem.  It can make us resent the people we love the most.  Believe me, I know how pervasive guilt can be.  If we don’t keep it in check it will annihilate us.  We will not be a help to anyone at that point.

If you are the only sibling who can or is willing to help care for your beloved old people remember there are so many loving rewards. It isn’t easy, especially when they are very ill or suffering from some form of dementia.  But, you will be in a position to make a huge difference in someone else’s life.  As Helen Keller said, “When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”

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What has worked for you?  Do you have some tips to pass on to the rest of us?  Please leave a comment and share your experiences with us.

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4 Responses to “Elder Care – What If You’re the Only Sibling Near By or Willing to Help?”

  1. Taking the responsibility of providing informal caregiving to your parents is a big and challenging task. It needs a great deal of patience, understanding and time as well. But if you really love your parents, then you’ll take this responsibility even if it’s hard and demanding. Also, you can take this chance to give back to your parents. They took care of you when you were little and now that they need your help, I think it’s just right to return the favor.

    • Nan McAdam says:

      I agree with your sentiments, but it’s amazing how many people don’t see it the same way. I know, from personal experience, there are many family members who won’t make the extra effort to care for, or visit their aging loved one. Sadly, how they treat others teaches others how to treat them.

  2. lift chairs says:

    When our family members are well, we usually do not think about what may happen in the future. As baby boomers age, they will become the largest group of elderly that our nation has ever had. And, their parents are aging as well. As a result of these two realities most families will be caring for aging loved ones.

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