Caring for Yourself While Caring for an Elderly Parent

She was tired – tired from getting up in the middle of the night from my mother’s screams, tired from running errands for my mom before she left for work and after she got home, tired trying to fit doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment in for mom between everything else. This is the life of a daughter, whose mother has Alzheimer’s.

My sister, Edweena, was the most loving, doting daughter that a mother could ask for. As a single mother herself, Edweena allowed our mother to move in with her when she was 26 years old in 1978. The day that I graduated from high school, our mom (not wanting to be by herself) moved in with Edweena. A good deal, they both thought. Mom could watch Edweena’s two children and Edweena got to be with her mother and have her influence on her children. It made practical and economic sense. And after all, it wasn’t forever. At least, that is what she thought.

Fast forward 27 years to 2005, Edweena is caring for our mom who has early onset dementia. Edweena is trying to balance being the mom of her two grown children, a career ironically as a social worker, being a grandmother and provide day and night care for our mother. She has no social life. She has given up the idea of ever having a relationship with the opposite sex because our mom drives her dates off, fearing she will leave her alone. Edweena gave her life to our mother and her care.

NPR reported about 10 million in the U.S. are caring for an aging parent. As medical technology and medications improve, so too will longevity and this number will skyrocket.

A cruel twist of fate may enter our life spans. Will the never ending stress of caring for our aging parents actually reduce our life expectancy? It will undoubtly cause more stress, more health issues and less sleep. There is a reason when you get on an airplane and the captain gives you the safety instructions about what happens when oxygen masks fall from above. “Please put the mask on yourself before helping your child” We can’t care for people, if we are not cared for.

5 tips I learned with my mom and my sister:

  1. No need to be Wonder Woman or Superman here. It is okay to ask for help, from a family member, from a paid care staff member, from a neighbor. No one is going to think badly of you. You are a human.
  2. Educate yourself. Learn about what happens when your loved one ages. There are progressions to certain issues with aging – whether it is the stages of dementia or the lack of mobility. Know what is coming around the corner, so you can prepare.
  3. Reclaim your body. We want to give loved ones the best care we can, so we physically and mentally exhaust ourselves. It is necessary and mandatory to eat right, exercise, get a massage, meditate – whatever you need to do to reclaim your body and get balance.
  4. Know when it is time. There will come a time when you cannot possibly care for your loved one. This was the hardest part for my sister, realizing when that time is. You will not do your family member any good if they get beyond the care level you can handle alone. They will suffer and you will suffer.
  5. Forgive yourself. My mom always told us kids, “I will never forgive you, if you put me in one of your homes, I will haunt you forever.” This was the hardest thing for my family, ironic that I am in the business and we know what good communities vs. what bad communities are. But we wanted to honor mom. We are still trying to forgive ourselves for placing her in assisted living.

Mom died in Oct of 2010. She lived nearly six years in an assisted living community with severe dementia. My sister is still trying to claim her life after mom.


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