5 More Common Errors in Taking Care of Elderly Parents
There are no fool-proof maps than can show the best way to care for an elderly parent. But there are some common “potholes” that can make the road difficult to travel. To help you on your caregiving journey, here are five more common errors adult children make in taking care of their elderly parents.
1. Not Taking Fall Hazards Seriously
There are many simple modifications you can make at home to reduce the risks of falls: eliminate throw rugs, keep walkways clear, improve lighting, install grab bars next to your toilet and in tub or shower, keep commonly used items at an easily reachable height, and make sure stairways have handrails. Encourage your loved one to turn on a light when using the bathroom at night, and make sure hallways and stairways are well lit. It is also a good idea to have a licensed occupational therapist do a home safety evaluation. Of course, one of the best ways to protect from falls is to maintain your strength through routine exercise and balance training. Physical therapists provide tremendous support in helping seniors stay fit, balanced, and safe in their homes.
2. Not Planning Ahead
If you have a parent who is beginning to experience a significant decline in health and functioning, it is important to make a plan. Anticipate increasing need for help in the home, and discuss different ways for meeting those needs. It is a good idea to call a family meeting and discuss all available resources, recognizing that more and more help may be needed as time goes on. Make a plan BEFORE a crisis hits. It can be awkward to discuss at first, but no one thinks clearly in an emergency.
3. Trying to Do it All Yourself
Consider carefully what you are able to give as a primary caregiver and know your own limitations. Many people want to do it all and set out with all guns blazing, ready to meet Mom and Dad’s every need. Be realistic! Acknowledge that every person is different in what they are able to give. Seek out available support systems BEFORE you feel like you desperately need them. Be creative in getting others involved. The old adage “It takes a village to raise a child” can be just as true for an adult family member with considerable health issues. If family members or friends are not available, look into volunteer organizations or home care companies that can help. You may feel like you are indispensible, but if you take a step back in your level of involvement, you may be surprised to find your loved one utilizing other resources to help. Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself. It’s essential!
4. Not Taking Burnout Seriously
If you balked at everything stated in #3 above, please read #4 carefully! It is common for family caregivers to experience significant declines in health as a result of the strain of caregiving. DON’T ignore the signs of burnout. The Alzheimer’s Association lists ten warning signs of caregiver stress: Denial, anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, irritability, lack of concentration, and health problems. If you are experiencing a high degree of caregiver stress, take necessary steps to care for your own needs. Ask for help. Set your boundaries, communicate them clearly, and stick to them. Take a break. Don’t neglect your personal relationships. Join a support group. Engage in activities that revive your mind, emotions and spirit. Take the time to eat something other than fast food!
5. Ignoring Parents’ Boundaries
Sometimes in managing the immediate concern for a parent’s physical needs, we ignore the need to respect their own personal boundaries. For example, in attempting to keep your mom safe, it is easy to steamroll her need to be independent. In wanting to make sure that your dad is not living in a messy home, you may compromise his right to determine his own standard of cleanliness. Be aware of how your own desire for peace of mind and security may compromise your parent’s deeper need for emotional support, self-determination, and the freedom to take risks.
Leanne I. Esch, LSW
April 6, 2010