There are so many things that all of us as baby boomers have in common, and one of them is elderly parents. Julie Gorges of La Quinta, California, writes for BoomerCafé about her own trials with her mom, and has devised Five Ways to Care for Aging Parents as a Labor of Love.
Sometimes, being a baby boomer, you are old enough to lose a parent suddenly. However, what you don’t always realize until you’re older and have a parent entering the final stage of life is, sometimes you lose a parent a little bit at a time.
My father is 81 and although he suffered a minor stroke this past year, he’s an old codger who still manages to get around just fine. Although my mother is younger, 76, we have watched shocked as her physical and mental health has deteriorated at an alarmingly fast rate this past year. A year-and-a-half ago, she had hip replacement surgery and as sometimes happens with these things, her mind never fully recovered. Before the surgery, she was sometimes confused and couldn’t keep appointments straight, but afterwards she didn’t know who I was most of the time. Her mind slowly came back a ways, but never fully.
As her doctor told her after a memory test when my Mom didn’t know what year it was and couldn’t draw a clock correctly, “You know something’s not right, right?” My heart broke for her, but I’m really proud of her that she can laugh at that now.
In addition, my Mom is in advanced stages of osteoarthritis, so she is always bent over looking down at her feet. Simple things we take for granted, such as getting dressed and eating, are now difficult for her.
But she puts one foot in front of the other and I think she is one of the bravest people I know.
So how do we boomers keep our bliss while watching the bodies and minds of the people we love decline?
Here are a few tips to help caretakers cope with the physical and emotional demands:
- Express your feelings to someone who will listen, empathize, and understand. If you’re a spiritual person, prayer is invaluable.
- Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, and exercise. Watch for warning signs such as mounting frustration and out-of-control emotions. This might be difficult, but that means you MUST schedule time for relaxation. Nurturing your own body and spirit gives you the strength and endurance to continue.
- Don’t forget that your parents need love and reassurance -– often desperately so. Like us, they need to feel valued and that their lives are worthwhile.
- Allow your parents to make their own decisions to the extent possible. The elderly are not children, but adults with a lifetime of wisdom and experience.
- Delegate and ask family members or friends for help, or consider hiring someone.
If caregiving is hard, it is also a labor of love. It’s a chance to connect with your parents and pay them back for all they have given you. As I am discovering, caring for a parent is a life-changing experience and one that is stressful and painful, but can be rewarding and inspiring as well.