Assuming Care of an Elderly Loved One

Can you help me prepare for the challenges of caring for an aging parent at home? My mother is no longer able to care for herself and has come to live with my husband and me. We preferred to do this rather than place her in an alternative facility, but we're not sure that we're equipped to meet her needs adequately. What should we bear in mind as we get ready to take on this new role?

To begin with, it’s important to get in touch with your own feelings as you move into this new phase in your family’s life. Though you’re accepting the role graciously and with an attitude of unselfish generosity, it’s likely that you never planned to become your mother’s caregiver. You said yes to the challenge because you wanted the best for her, but you also recognize that you lack some of the skill and knowledge required for the task. You’re also wondering where you’ll get the time, strength and energy to meet your mom’s needs while still fulfilling your many other responsibilities and obligations. As a result, you’re probably cycling through a whirlwind of conflicting emotions – compassion and concern, stress, anxiety and frustration, even anger and resentment. There is nothing wrong with any of these reactions. They’re all part of the process.

There’s one thing you can be sure of: caring for your elderly mother is going to mean more work for you. It will entail providing transportation, grocery shopping, and household chores. It may involve the oversight and administration of medications, pills, or injections. It will almost certainly translate into less time for other family members, vacations, hobbies and other favorite activities. It may mean dealing with dementia, forgetfulness or Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re a member of the “sandwich generation” – that is, if you’re trying to meet your mother’s needs and raising children of your own at the same time – it will also add significantly to the burden of responsibility you’re already bearing as a parent. In short, the role you’re assuming is going to require a considerable amount of personal sacrifice on your part.

All of this is complicated by the fact that caring for an aging loved one is often the emotional opposite of raising children. As kids grow, parents celebrate the passing of exciting milestones. By way of contrast, the significant milestones in the life of an elder are almost always grim, leading inevitably to death. Meanwhile, simple tasks, like helping your loved one eat or washing her face, are constant reminders of decline, filled with corresponding emotional overtones of grief and loss. You may feel deep pain and sadness about the way life is going.

But that’s not the end of the story. While the requirements of care-giving may sometimes seem to bring out the worst in you, there will be other occasions – many of them – when they bring out the best. Along with feelings of confusion and conflict you will experience the joy of sharing burdens, growing in relationships, spiritual breakthroughs, forgiveness and reconciliation. You’ll also realize a sense of satisfaction in knowing that your service and your presence bring reassurance, comfort and coherence into your mother’s fragmented world.

In short, the road you’re about to travel will not be easy. But if you approach it courageously, compassionately, and with your eyes wide open, it will lead you into a much deeper understanding of what it means to share the sufferings of Christ and embody His love in service to another human being. At this stage of the journey, we recommend that you spend some time getting to know your own limits, taking care of your personal needs, maintaining life-preserving margins, and researching sources of practical assistance. There are a growing number of services and devices available to help you, ranging from transportation services and adult day care to wheelchairs and home modifications. For more information, see the website of the
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don’t hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.


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Caring for Aging Parents

Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Elderly Care

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