Taking care of an elderly loved one is…is…is…there is no way to describe it. It is a task (or job or responsibility or honor) more and more people are taking on. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters are finding themselves in one of the most time-consuming, overwhelming situations possible. In addition to their current responsibilities, they are now entrusted with the care of an elderly person with needs and wants unlike anyone else.
And, it isn’t necessarily an elderly loved – with early-onset of what was once believed to be health issues of only “old-timers,” families are now finding themselves caring for their loved ones much younger than they ever expected. People in their 20s and 30s are now caring for their own parents, sometimes their grandparents as well, along with their small children.
To say this is “challenging” doesn’t begin to cover it. I know this. I took care of my Granddaddy for over a decade. That truly was “the long good-bye.” It was a learn-as-you-go period in my life that was also the saddest, hardest, most joyful and most rewarding time of my life. Living it for that long, I picked up a few tricks that helped me embrace the joy and see the rewards of caring for someone in his situation.
Live In Their World
You have to learn to live in whatever world your elderly loved one is living in. A lot of the time, you will need to learn which decade (or even century) they are in so you join them there. Debating (or arguing) isn’t going to change their thinking. It will only agitate and, sometimes, anger them. Just run with it.
If they call you by another name, answer to it. I would say “I’m Emma” and Granddaddy would say “No, you are not. I know my baby girl and you are not her.” So, I became whoever he thought I was. I was his mother, his sister and my Granny, his wife. I started out correcting him, but this frustrated him. There were times it made him scared and sad, which were even worse. I just ran with it and learned to become whoever he wanted me to be that day or that 15 minutes.
I learned that breakfast for supper was a brilliant and tasty idea. Getting him to eat wasn’t always easy and fussing about which meal was served at what time wasn’t worth the effort or the consequences. I became flexible. If he wanted bacon and eggs at 8 p.m., I could do that. I can’t tell you how many times I had meatloaf and mashed potatoes for breakfast. He was eating and enjoying what he ate – that was what was most important. Of course, I wanted him to eat healthy meals so I tossed in as much healthy food as possible.
Ask For Help
You have to learn to ask for help. I never trusted the home health care aids, but I learned I could still be there, watching them, and not doing everything I normally would do. I tried to use that time wisely, catching up on work from my “paying job” or cleaning out the litter box.
I learned to call friends and family for help. Generally speaking, almost everyone loves the elderly. Even if they would only sit with Granddaddy when I had to take a shower, it was a welcomed relief. There were times I’d get out of the shower or back from the store to find they had folded the laundry for me. When someone was sitting with him, I would sometimes go into a different room to read a book. Just a few minutes of doing something you enjoy, something to take your mind off things for a few minutes, can be both energizing and relaxing. It will make you a better caregiver.
Let It Go
Learning to let it go was the hardest thing for me. He was my Granddaddy. It was my honor and responsibility to take care of him. When I learned to delegate and not be such a control and neat freak, my life simplified.
I was such a control freak when it came to his medications. He took dozens of prescriptions for his laundry list of health issues. I learned to let that go. I also learned our local pharmacist was much better at putting all those pills in those little boxes. FYI – I do believe healthy, all-natural and holistic are usually the best ways to go. I also believe there are times when you should see a doctor and use the medications your doctor prescribes. To me, with the health issues Granddaddy was dealing with, was the time to see a doctor and take prescription medications.
I learned the dishes didn’t have to be done all the time, every time. If they sat for a few hours (or even overnight), my Granddaddy’s world would not crumble. Neither did mine. I learned to embrace paper plates. Not the most environment-friendly choice, but, at the time, our environment wasn’t even on my radar. He always loved picnics anyway. We have “bed picnics,” laughing and talking as if we were at the park.
You have to learn to walk away. “Walking away” does not have to mean you actually leave. It means taking a bit of time to separate yourself from the situation. It can mean going into another room or sitting on the front porch for a few minutes.
You have to remain healthy, mentally, physically and emotionally, to do what you have to do. A few minutes away can help you keep your own needs met. Sitting on the front porch and watching a cloud float by might be just the thing to help you get back to being you, not just a caregiver.
When you are able to walk away, use that time wisely even if it is only a few minutes. That is your time and your time is important. Pray. Meditate. Laugh. Cry. Sit in your car and scream if you want. Breathe. Use your time for your personal needs. Get yourself centered.
I highly recommend you do not spend “your time” to think. It isn’t the time to think about your to-do list. It isn’t your time to think about your shortcomings and failures. It isn’t the time to think about “what ifs.” This is the time to relax your mind. This is the time to be.
I know. I get it. I really do understand. You can’t do these things. You don’t have the time. You have too much to do. You have too many responsibilities. You have too much on your plate. You have too much guilt when it comes to taking care of your elderly loved one.
You can though. You have to do them. Of course, I want you to do them for yourself, but you may not be in that frame of mind. Then, think about it another way…Do them for your loved one(s). These things will make you a better caregiver. You will be happier, more relaxed and more prepared to be the caregiver you expect yourself to be. In turn, you will be giving better care. These doable tips will improve everyone’s lives for the better. Please feel free to join our Facebook group, it was created for caregivers of all kinds.