The job of becoming the primary caregiver for your aging parent is universally recognized as one of the most difficult transitions we will go through. To start with, it’s hard to go through the reversal of parent and child. All your life, mom or dad were the strong ones. They were the ones you ran to for help and who were always there to tell you, “It’s ok. Everything will be all right.”
But now as your parent ages and you have to witness their demise mentally and physically, you realize that everything may not be all right especially if your parent is going through a slow decline of a terminal illness. When the only outcome of what you are dealing with in your parent’s life is death, that makes it tough to stay upbeat, creative and proactive about how to handle life’s daily challenges.
The task of caring for an elderly parent is overwhelming. You have concerns about their finances, their medications, the progress of their disease if they are battling something terminal, their mental state, their diet and their emotional state as well. It’s easy to begin to “hover” your senior citizen in an emotional attempt to block any more harm coming to him or her. This is a parenting instinct and one that your dad and mom probably won’t resist because they want to be cared for.
You feel the anxiety of your parent and the fears they face as the months and years ahead hold uncertain dangers and a certain outcome. So there is an instinct in caregivers to give 100% of your time, your energy and your resources to caring for that elderly loved one.
The problem is that you, the caregiver do have other obligations other than caring for your loved one. You may have a job, a family and your own health and upkeep to think about. So it’s a good idea for you the caregiver, the family of caregivers and event he one being cared for to keep your eyes open for caregiver burnout to help the one who is trying so hard to take care of Grandma or Grandpa to also take care of themselves a little bit so they will last a lot longer.
Underlying much of the intensity of effort many caregivers put out to help their aging or align parents is guilt. Guilt can be a powerful force that feeds on itself in an unhealthy way. The outcome is not only does the primary caregiver feel guilty that mom or dad are even having to go through age related illness, they feel guilty for any time they take for themselves or to care for their own needs or the needs of their family.
Caregiver burnout can result in decline in health in the caregiver and eventually may lead to changes in attitude about the task of care giving and in some cases a nervous breakdown. Symptoms include poor sleep and eating habits in the caregiver, a possible increase in drinking to help “settle the nerves” and an inability to think about anything else than what mom or dad needs.
If you see these symptoms in yourself or someone you know and care about who may be suffering from caregiver burnout, act fast to get them some help. They need to realize that taking care of themselves is part of the task of caring for their aging parents. It may even be a situation that calls for a talk with the caregiver along with the one being cared for. If that senior citizen can see that they need to encourage their caregiver to go be with family, get some rest, see a movie and forget the responsibilities of care giving for a while, that respite from the stress can do a world of good for that important person in their lives.