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Posted: March 29, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Perspective Helps in Parenting Our Parents

Parents! Can't live without them (or get started, at least) and, boy, sometimes it's hard to live with them as their caregiver. That-s what my e-mailbag has turned up lately.

For Irene, the problem with her mother is her attitude. But as you'll find out, it's possible the biggest problem is Irene's dealing with her own feelings about her mother growing older.

For Dorothy, the problem is this in a nutshell: she wants a roadmap on how she can remain sane and healthy while taking care of her parents.

Irene and Dorothy are not at all unique in their feelings and needs. You may find aspects of their situation (and my observations) that fit your own caregiving situation.


Dear Jean:

My mother will be 93 years old in August. She is generally healthy, but has minimal sight and hearing.

The problem is her attitude. I try talking to her nicely, but she takes things the wrong way. For instance, I place her plate in front of her and she proceeds to eat the sandwich while sitting back in the kitchen chair. I asked her very nicely to please eat over the plate so crumbs don't get all over. She then gets upset with me and tells me I am too picky, while crumbs are falling all over her, the table and the floor. I don't know what happened to the neat, clean and orderly mother I had when I was a child. I am 66 years old and don't want to have to wash or clean the kitchen floor after every single meal. I don't feel it's "too picky" to ask for cooperation to keep things neat.

I'm at my wit's end. How do I tactfully handle this elderly care situation?

Irene, Lansing, Michigan.


Dear Irene:

Your mother probably can't see the crumbs because she can't see very well in general. Also, she probably can't use her hands as well as she used to. Instead of getting upset about the crumbs, try to think of what young parents do to keep things clean when they are taking care of their baby. You might try putting a piece of plastic under your mother's chair for the crumbs.

You are staring into the face of your mother's decline, despite her appearing in generally good health. It would not be unusual for some of your frustration to be caused by your own feelings about your mother aging and declining, rather than what your mother is doing with the crumbs. They could be just a visible example of the aging and decline that may be really bothering you and therefore the crumbs are something easy for you to focus on. You might be able to change the situation with crumbs on the floor, but aging and decline are elements you can't control.

I wish I could say that things will get better, but there is a good chance they will not. You need to learn how to handle your feelings and accept what is happening to your mother. That includes the fact that she is not the neat and clean mother you always knew.


Dear Jean:

I'm an only child, with no children, who works full time. My parents in the past year have both fallen seriously ill. Long story short, my Mom almost passed away in March with congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. She is now on oxygen 24 hours a day.

Meanwhile, my Dad has been deteriorating mentally, and we just found out that he had a stroke at some point, which has caused some brain damage and communication problems. He is also being treated with Aricept, a drug for Alzheimer's patients.

I love my parents more than anyone on earth, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for them. My question to you is this: do you have any advice for someone like me who really has no support system (I'm also very private)? I'm looking for a way to remain sane and healthy so I can handle what I need to do. Any suggestions you can provide are truly appreciated. Thank you for your consideration.

Dorothy, North Platte, Nebraska

Hi Dorothy:

You have your own feelings to deal with while you are trying to help your parents. That's very hard to do, and it's very difficult to become the parent to you parents. They have always been there for you. Now the roles are reversed and you need to be there for them.

Make sure you have someone to talk to. Forget about being "very private" -- that's a luxury for another time in your life. Right now, you need support -- and you'll have to be the one to find it. Support can be a friend, counselor, minister or someone else you trust.

Taking care of parents is very frustrating. You will develop feelings that you don't want to take care of them, whether they are at home or in a nursing home. This is normal, so don't beat yourself up over it. It is normal to not want to do unpleasant things, even if they are necessary. Your feelings will also get in the way of your decisions, so try to make sure your decisions are based on what is best for your parents.

Take time for yourself every day. This doesn't need to be hours and hours, just enough time for you to relax. Go to a movie once a week, or do something else that you enjoy and that is relaxing.

There's another area you need to be aware of: the feelings of both your parents. They have depended on themselves and each other throughout their married life, and now that is coming to an end. With this development comes the realization that their own life may be ending. Be very patient and gentle because they will have feelings they don't really understand, and sometimes they will understand them but they won't want to talk about them.

Remember, this will come to an end. It won't last forever. You will have a normal life again. It will take a while for you to get over the shock of your parents dying, when that occurs, but you will recover. Even when parents are ill and you expect them to die, it is still a shock when it actually happens. After all, they have been there all your life and at some point won't be there any longer.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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