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Posted: September 26, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Finding Our Way As Caregivers

You can never go home again -- we've all heard that refrain. And in a real sense, it is true. Still,. when we return to our parents as their caregiver, we have in fact "returned," and many things must change from the days when we were young.
Carla from Chicago knows that. She found out caring for her parents, but now she needs our help and support to persevere.
Let's see what she dropped into my e-mailabg:
Dear Jean:
I haven't recovered from a divorce yet. I feel lost and am trying to find myself. Now I'm being drawn back home to help take care of my foster parents who live in another state. I'm OK with that; they raised my sister and me. I feel so bad, and I'm in the process of moving in with Mom and Dad to take care of them, but I don't know how to even begin caring for them. It's so overwhelming and I'm so upset. I can't really write what I feel.
My foster parents have a two-story home. They have to climb stairs to take a bath, sleep, etc. It is becoming dangerous due to their weakened conditions. They still do it, but I'm afraid they will fall. They do have an empty room in the back of the house that could be turned into a room/bathroom so they could be on one floor. I don't know the first step to help. Please help me.
Thank you.
Carla W., Chicago
Dear Carla:
I believe you will "find" yourself when you are doing something to help your foster parents. You will have time to sort out your own life. Giving to someone else always helps us feel good, and the responsibility helps also.
It sounds like your thinking is sound. You know part of what is needed and you do have a reasonable solution in mind -- making it possible for them to live on one floor. Take pride in what you DO know!
Other things will be needed, but you won't know what those are until you're there. When you think you have everything figured out to work well, things will change and you will need to reevaluate the situation. That's just the way it is.
Don't panic. Take one day at a time. Don't worry too much about what might happen because most of those things won't happen. When you see something changing, talk to their doctor about it. Learn as much as you can about their health and how it will progress. Don't obsess over it, though. Just read enough so you are aware of how their conditions will progress, what to watch for and what to do in the various situations that their conditions bring.
Once you are living with your foster parents, you will see first-hand what is going on and where you need to help them. One of the first things I would watch is their meds. Quite often, elderly have trouble taking their meds when they should. If you ask them about their meds, they will probably tell you they take them like they are supposed to. But watch when they take them, and make sure they are taking them when they are supposed to!
Also, make sure they have enough healthy food to eat. You might also want to make sure they are paying their bills on time. Then, there is cleanliness. Quite often, the elderly don't do well in these areas when they start needing help. In other words, you need to observe what they are doing right and what they are not doing right. And step in accordingly.
At times taking care of your foster parents will probably be very frustrating. Don't give up. You can do it. Don't expect to be able to solve all their problems, because you won't be able to. Their health will get worse, and you can't change that. What you can do is make their lives as healthy and happy as possible. In doing that you will find you are much happier and fulfilled.
Please make sure to take care of yourself. Family caregivers too often neglect their own health, both physical and mental. Be sure to take breaks -- whether it's 15 minutes, an afternoon or a day or two. You will be happier and more relaxed, and that will make it possible for you to take better care of your foster parents.
After you have moved in with your foster parents, there is a worksheet you might want to fill out. It will help you decide what you and your foster parents need, and then how to fill those needs. In fact, you will want to change it several times, so print more than one copy. The worksheet is part of a column I wrote called Knowing What You Need Is the First Step In Getting What You Need. 
Good luck. You can do it!

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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