How to survive caring for an Elderly Parent

A guide to being strong in yourself as you care for a loved one

My mother was given a maximum of six months to live so we brought her into our home to care for her last days. Three years later she was still with us! I share the insights and understanding that this time brought me and how you can keep your energy and spirits strong through what can be an intensely demanding and challenging time.

This week I am addressing the difficult question of responsibility. What is your responsibility of care, when does caring step over into controlling and how can you manage without the burdens of responsibility bringing you to your knees?

Taking responsibility

I am always conscious to avoid getting involved with other people’s affairs, decisions and life choices without their full permission. It is so easy to step over the line and become interfering and controlling but with an elderly parent, once they get fragile and unable to manage their lives for themselves, we need to step up and take some level of responsibility for their finances and welfare.

Financial affairs

Fortunately, my mother and I had a sensible conversation while she was still mentally able and we agreed that she would grant me Power of Attorney so that if at any stage she lost her mental faculties through stroke or dementia then I could take over responsibility for her financial affairs. As it turned out this was a timely move and saved me a lot of fuss when she did get really poorly; a time when visiting lawyers and getting documents signed would have just added to my stress. Even if you don’t use the powers when you first get the document signed I heartily recommend that you get this in place once your parents start to get fragile.

Caring for elderly or disabled relatives is a very stressful role and you will want to do everything you can to make life simple, organised and managed otherwise your own health can be compromised.

Planning for the future.

The elderly can deteriorate quite quickly and unexpectedly and, although you and your parent may have a coping plan in place I think it’s a good idea to always have a plan for the next stage. This may involve moving from home to a care home or bringing in care at whatever level is needed. If you have discussed the needs with family and other members of your care team then everyone including your parent will be able to move into the next stage without drama.

So while your parents are still able to make their own decisions I suggest you talk to them about their future care; who will look after them, will they go to a care home and how will it be financed? I hadn’t done this and when my mother had a stroke we had the trauma of her illness plus these decisions to make. As I have access to support my husband and I offered to have her live with us, which was her own first choice. I felt that I would be worrying myself constantly if she was in a home and it would be better for both of us if I could supervise her care by bringing in help. Was that a good decision? I think it was the best for her as she had her family close but it did put a huge burden on my shoulders and changed the dynamics of our home considerably. I am glad I did it as I loved my mother very much but unless you have tremendous support and the time and patience for this I suggest you think long and hard about this option, it will seriously disrupt your life and be a massive challenge.

Although we had neglected to discuss her old age needs fully I did know my mother’s wishes for her funeral arrangements and this made it so much easier for me to make decisions knowing what she wanted and I learnt the benefits of forward planning. Worrying about doing the right thing and not upsetting your parent is one of the hardest burdens to carry even when there is a full family involved so having their approved plans in mind will save you many sleepless nights, and believe me, when you are the main carer there will be many of these anyway! Where possible chose their future with them not for them.

How far do you go in taking decisions?

Of course, there are no set rules and everyone’s situation will be different but I found that my mother, who had been a very strong minded lady in her time and totally self-responsible, was quite happy for me to take over her life towards the end when she became very sick, but before those final months she got very irritable if I made any decision without involving her! So my rule was to always ask her what she wanted and let her be part of every decision regarding her welfare. Her choice wasn’t always practical but I managed that by talking through the options and then, if she still wasn’t on board with the best choice for all of us, I would make arbitrary decisions myself!

I have a friend whose mother’s first choice is to stay in her own home but have her daughter come every day to do the housework, take care of her medications, arrange her finances and run her home for her! My friend tried to comply but was sick within months! If your own wellbeing is compromised you must step in and make decisions that are reasonable for you as well.

The energetic implications of taking on all the responsibility of another person looks like this:

You will doubtlessly have heavy sore shoulders and some upper back pain! It is worth remembering that everyone has the right to live the life following their choices; that is how we evolve as souls and this rule includes old age and the way we die. Everyone has a plan for their life before they come to earth, so in those difficult days when the person you care for is struggling and you feel upset because you can only do so much to help remember that this was part of their life plan. Give all the love and support you can but realise that you cannot make it perfect for your loved one no matter how much you would like to. Trying too hard and feeling responsible for every pain and hurt will destroy you and spiritually it’s not your role. Give love, make sure they are safe and getting the best care available then step back. Sweep your shoulders and remove the burdens and keep coming back to your heart centre, know that the responsibilities you have for them are from love not duty and the load will lighten.

We always want the best for our loved ones but it’s important that we also take care of ourselves too, finding the balance is the tricky part and next time I will be discussing how important it is to get some help so that you don’t shoulder the entire burden yourself.

Love and hugs Anne xxx

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