We women in our 40’s and beyond are the “sandwich generation”, taking care of our families with children of all ages and also dealing with our aging parents. Taking care of elderly parents is a noble undertaking, especially if parents are ill or dealing with dementia. While extended family has wonderful benefits, the decision to bring an elderly parent home to live with your family can also carry a heavy toll if goals and guidelines are not discussed ahead of time.
If you are considering this situation for your own family, take time to discuss the following issues. Not only will there be a realistic expectation but the primary caregiver can have the support and understanding they will so desperately need when things get difficult.
HOW LONG WILL THEY STAY?
The discussion of how long an elderly parent stays will be determined by different issues. If the parent is recuperating from an illness or the death of their partner, the stay may be limited to a specific time period.
If long term care is needed it is important to decide what amount of care your family is capable of providing. If more specialized care is eventually needed, the family is agreed on the steps to be taken, such as hiring a nurse or moving the parent to a nursing home.
WHO WILL CARE FOR THEM?
It is unfair to expect a particular member (usually the woman) to take on the responsibilities of caring for the elderly parent unless this has been decided beforehand. Caregiving can be very draining and an individual working full time or caring for children may not feel they can handle the extra work.
If one person decides to take on the responsibility, other members should take on auxiliary roles to relieve the main caregiver. These can be decided beforehand or else the family should agree to help, without irritation, when asked.
WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES?
Along with deciding who is doing the work, it is important to know what responsibilities are involved. If there are health issues, the family, or at least the parents, should be informed as to what assistance they will be required to provide.
Children can take on responsibilities such as helping with chores, sitting with the grandparent so parents can do other chores or errands, or help care for younger siblings.
Give children a realistic idea of the demands you are taking on and keep communication open so they can vent their own frustrations at losing some of your attention and time.
HOW CAN THE CAREGIVER BE SUPPORTED?
Burnout is a major problem for caregivers. Whether you are alone or dealing with the demands of family along with caring for your parent, it is important that the primary caregiver be given relief for defined periods.
Family or friends can stay with the parent while the caregiver takes some time away; a walk, going shopping or even staying away for a night – especially if care is usually around the clock.
Hiring an aide or arranging for a nurse visit can also relieve the caregiver of excessive responsibility. This ability to walk away from the caregiving will allow the individual to relieve stress and keep perspective. Time away, without guilt, is absolutely essential for the caregiver’s health and the proper taking care of the elderly parent.