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Posted: March 07, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Dealing with Overwhelming Caregiving Duties

My e-mailbag is brimming over, so I want to use today's column to again catch up on your questions. The first is from Lyn, who is overwhelmed trying to hold together her job and also take good care of her husband. She needs a break, but she also needs to take care of herself.

Francine faces a more specific problem bothering many caregivers -- how do you get your elderly parent to eat? There are little "tricks" that may help -- and keep caregiver frustration at a minimum.

Read on, and see if you agree

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Dear Jean:

This is a typical day for me. I work all day in a very stressful job. During lunch, I make lists of what I need to do at home and for my husband who is in a nursing home. After work, I go to the store and do other things I need to do, then visit him. I help him eat and stay until he is safely tucked into bed. I go home exhausted, but sometimes I can't sleep because I keep thinking of what life has done to us.

The marriage vows we took many years ago said "in sickness and in health," but we didn't have any idea what real sickness was. It seemed like such a wonderful life back then, but now it is so horrible. I dread each morning and wish I could just stay in bed all the time. I don't even want to visit my husband! Do you have any suggestions?

Lyn A., Boise, Idaho

Dear Lyn:

I'm so sorry your life with your husband has taken this turn. It is difficult. It is stressful. It isn't easy the way it was many years ago.

Of course you still love your husband (and he loves you) or you wouldn't spend the amount of time you do with him. Try to remember the good times, and talk with him about those times. It will help you both.

It sounds like you are trying to do too much, and I am sure you feel that way. You are not obligated to do everything for him yourself. If you should miss a night or two, he will still be taken care of well. The staff at the nursing home takes care of him when you work and when you are sleeping, and they can take of him a few more hours a week.

There are other ways for you to get respite (a time of relief) without neglecting your husband. Why don't you contact your friends, relatives, local church, hospital, or any other place you can think of where someone might be able to visit your husband so you can take some time for yourself? I know you may find this difficult to believe, but there are people who actually enjoy visiting the ill and helping those who take care of them. Quite often they will do it at no charge. There are also organizations you can hire to help you with your chores as well as by visiting your husband. You need some time for yourself -- just remember that.

When you do take a little time for yourself, don't feel guilty because you aren't there every night. You need time for yourself to relax and find something to enjoy. He may miss you (especially at first) and you will miss him, but you will find you are happier and that will make your time together much more fulfilling for both of you.

I am sure you feel it is your obligation to take care of your husband and be there with him, but it is not your obligation to do it to the detriment of your own health. If you have a heart attack, you won't be able to visit him or take care of him, will you? Think of your needs and your health -- along with his needs and his health.

You should get a physical examination, and talk to the doctor about what you are going through. You may have a physical condition you are not aware of. Ask your doctor for help. There are times everyone needs to ask for help. It is a sign of strength -- not weakness -- to admit you need help. The doctor might have some answers for you that will help you tremendously.

Things can get better for you, but you need to take the first step. Go to a doctor. Find a way to take a break. Find something to do that you enjoy. Don't try to do everything yourself. Your life can improve. Good luck!

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Dear Jean:

I have to feed my mother all the time now because she won't eat if I don't. I know she isn't eating enough, but I don't know what to do. I've tried about everything I can think of, but she just won't eat hardly anything. I fix everything she has always liked. I have even bought food from a restaurant she likes, but she still won't eat. What else can I do?

Francine S., Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dear Francine:

You didn't say anything about why your mother doesn't feed herself. If it is a dementia type of reason, she probably has forgotten how to feed herself. Once the hunger sensation is relieved, she quits eating. That doesn't mean she has eaten enough, of course. She just feels better temporarily. When that hunger feeling comes back, she probably doesn't know why she is feeling that way and doesn't know to ask for food.

If it is because of another disease, such as cancer, there are many other reasons why she won't eat. No matter what the reason, there are a few things you might try:

1. Feed her six to eight times a day. She isn't eating very much when she does eat, and this may get more nourishment into her system.

2. Make sure the foods are healthy foods, but include "treats" also.

3. Serve her foods she likes.

4. Think about how the food is prepared and give her food that is easy to digest. For example, extremely greasy foods will be hard for her to digest, and may upset her stomach.

5. If she has trouble swallowing or chewing, give her smaller amounts in her mouth and make sure they are not so hard she can't chew them.

6. Make sure the temperature is not too hot or too cold.

7. Think of ways you would try to feed a child that doesn't want to eat and try the techniques on your mother. You may be surprised to find that they work.

Good luck. Taking care of a parent is always stressful, but these little "tricks" may help.

© 2005 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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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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