29 Sep Caring for Aging Parents Without Compromising Your Mental Health
Caring for Aging Parents Without Compromising Your Mental Health
Sean Abraham, LCSW, Grow Therapy
As our parents age, their physical and mental health begins to decline, and they may require more help and support to carry out daily activities. It can be an overwhelming and emotional experience to watch them go through this stage of life. But it’s important to remember that you can’t care for your aging parents without also caring for yourself.
Challenges of Caring for Aging Parents
Several challenges come with caring for aging parents. Here are some of the most prevalent challenges and how to overcome them:
- Balancing Caregiving Responsibilities and Personal Life
It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel guilty or selfish for taking time away from their loved ones, but taking care of yourself is essential to providing the best care possible.
You can begin by prioritizing your time. Make a list of your caregiving responsibilities, and prioritize them in order of importance. Focus on the most critical tasks, be bold, and ask for help with less important tasks.
Creating a schedule can be a helpful habit. Create a program that allows you to dedicate time to your caregiving responsibilities and time for your activities. This could mean hiring another caregiver for a few hours a week to free up time for exercise, hobbies, or friends.
- Dealing with Emotional and Behavioral Changes in Aging Parents
Your aging parents may experience emotional and behavioral changes occasioned by health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and even dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The first thing you need to do is to recognize that these changes are expected. They result from the aging process and the physical and mental decline that comes with it.
Open communication with your elderly parents is crucial in dealing with these changes. Be open and honest with your parents about their emotions and behavior changes. Let them express their feelings and concerns freely, and offer support and encouragement.
A psychotherapist can also provide much-needed help to assist you and your aging parent in coping with emotional and behavioral changes during difficult times.
- Financial Challenges of Elder Care
Medical bills and rising living costs can cause significant financial strain to both you and your parents. However, there are steps that you can take to help alleviate financial stress.
First, find out what your parent’s balance sheet looks like if appropriate. This will mean finding information about their assets concerning their liabilities and getting a sense of their cash flow.
After you understand your parents’ financial position, decide where and how to help. If you need to chip in financially, ensure you don’t get into trouble by overstretching your limits.
You can solicit help from family members or adult children to avoid financial constraints, or consider state and federal benefits programs. For instance, your parents might be eligible for Medicaid to ease medical bills or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to assist with food expenses.
- Managing Parental Resistance to Care
Your parents may be reluctant to acknowledge their limitations or unwilling to accept help from you or others, even if necessary for their health and safety. Consider the following to help reduce resistance:
First, understand your parent’s perspective. Try to see the situation from their viewpoint and understand why they may resist care. An open and honest conversation with them can help address their concerns and fears about aging and needing care.
Secondly, you can also offer your parents a variety of options for care, such as home care services, adult day care, or assisted living. Discuss each option’s pros and cons and allow them to make their own decision.
Coping with Caregiver Stress and Burnout
Caring for aging parents can be overwhelming and exhausting, especially when added to an already packed schedule. You may experience stress, anxiety, and depression. You may also feel guilty for wanting some time for yourself or for feeling resentful towards your parents. So how do you cope with burnout and stress?
Accept help and avoid taking on everything by yourself. You can seek help from family members, friends, or a professional caregiver.
Taking care of your own health can also maintain your mental health while providing care. For instance, you can engage in activities that help you relax and de-stress. This could include meditation, yoga, reading, or listening to music.
Connecting with others also helps. This might mean joining a support group for caregivers or talking to a therapist.
Strategies for Maintaining Your Mental Health While Caring for Aging Parents
From worrying about their health to balancing your personal and professional life, caring for aging parents can be an emotional rollercoaster ride. However, there are ways to cope with the stress and maintain your well-being.
- Set Realistic Expectations for Caregiving
Caregiving is a demanding job that requires a lot of time, effort, and patience, so it’s important not to overestimate what you can realistically provide; you can help manage expectations by setting realistic expectations for yourself and your loved ones.
Think about your job, your family, your hobbies, and any other commitments you may have. Once you have a clear idea of your current situation, you can start thinking about the level of care your aging parent needs.
Based on this assessment, you can develop a realistic caregiving plan that outlines your responsibilities and expectations for yourself and your loved ones. Explain what you can and cannot provide to your parents, and try to involve other family members or outside resources if needed.
- Prioritize Self-Care and Self-Compassion
Prioritizing self-care is essential for maintaining mental health and avoiding caregiver burnout. One way to do so is by taking breaks. Even if it’s just a short walk outside or a quick meditation session, taking a few moments to recharge can help you better handle the stresses of caregiving.
It’s also important to practice self-compassion. Caregiving can be emotionally draining, and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-criticism and guilt. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes and that taking care of yourself is not selfish; it’s necessary for being able to care for others.
- Seek Support from Family, Friends, and Professionals
Whether it’s a therapist, support group, or a trusted friend or family member, having a safe space to express your feelings and concerns is essential. Talking to someone can alleviate some of the emotional burdens of caregiving.
It’s also helpful to seek help from a therapist or a geriatrician who is experienced in your need. A psychotherapist can teach you the necessary coping skills throughout your caregiving journey.
- Practice Stress-Relief Techniques
Finding ways to manage stress is important so you can continue caring for your loved ones effectively without compromising your well-being. Here are a few stress-relief techniques that can help:
Mindfulness Meditation: A few minutes a day of mindfulness meditation can make a big difference in your mental health.
Exercise: Exercise helps you maintain your mental and physical health as well. Even just going for a walk around the block can help clear your mind and boost your mood.
Deep Breathing: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking a few deep breaths can help you feel more calm and centered. Additionally, journaling is a helpful tool for processing your thoughts and emotions.
Grounding Exercises: If things feel too stressful or too intense, take a moment to connect with your physical senses and notice the things around you that you can see, hear, smell, taste or feel. This can help to alleviate anxiety and worry.
- Maintain a Positive Attitude and Find Joy in Caregiving
As a caregiver for aging parents, it’s essential to maintain a positive attitude and find joy in the experience. You can find greater fulfillment and happiness by cultivating a positive mindset and focusing on the positive aspects of the caregiving experience.
You can maintain a positive attitude by practicing gratitude. Take time each day to reflect on the things you’re thankful for, whether it’s a kind gesture from a loved one or the fact that you can care for your parents.
You must also focus on the meaningful moments in your caregiving journey that bring you joy and fulfillment. By doing so, you’ll be able to see the positive impact you’re having on your parents’ lives and find greater meaning in your role as a caregiver.
Positive affirmations can also be a helpful tool in improving mood and motivation. Saying something to yourself such as “I am capable of doing this” or “I am a human being and make mistakes, and that is okay” can help to bolster your emotions when things get difficult. Instead of saying these things, you can also write them down on sticky notes and place them somewhere you will see often.
Resources for Caregivers of Aging Parents
Every year, 53 million individuals assist in daily living activities to support the health and quality of life of aging loved ones. Various resources are available to help and support older adults and their caregivers.
- Community Resources and Support Groups
Community resources, such as local senior centers, churches, and nonprofit organizations, can provide access to helpful services such as transportation, meal delivery, and home care assistance. Many of these organizations also offer educational programs and events specifically geared toward care managers.
Caregiver support groups provide a supportive and serene environment where you can express your concerns, feelings, and experiences with others. You can also gain valuable advice and information from other caregivers who have been through an experience similar to yours.
- Financial and Legal Assistance for Elder Care
You can seek assistance from programs for elder care. These programs may offer financial support, such as low-income subsidies, in-home care services, and assisted living programs. Medicare and Medicaid are also great resources that help eligible seniors financially.
Consider consulting with an elder law attorney who can help you understand your parents’ rights and available legal options. They can also guide long-term care planning, asset protection, Medicaid, and Medicare.
- Respite Care and Adult Day Program
Respite care and adult day programs offer opportunities for caregivers to take time off while ensuring that their aging parents receive proper care and supervision.
Alzheimer’s Association is an example of an organization that offers respite care for the elderly living with Alzheimer’s disease. The association also provides a range of resources and support services to caregivers of aging parents. They offer information, support groups, education, and respite care.
- In-Home Care Services and Assisted Living Options
In-home care services allow you to hire a trained professional to come to your parent’s home and provide care. These services include activities of daily living (ADLs), providing medication reminders, and running errands.
Assisted living facilities offer higher care than in-home services but still allow seniors to maintain some independence. These facilities typically provide meals, housekeeping, transportation services, and access to healthcare professionals.
- Medicare and Medicaid Benefits for Elder Care
Medical costs account for approximately 17% of caregiver expenditure, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Much is spent on payments to healthcare providers, hospitals, and therapists. So, how can you reduce these costs?
Medicare and Medicaid offer the solution you need. Medicare is a federally-funded program that provides health insurance to people over the age of 65 and people with specific disabilities. The program covers many medical services and procedures, including doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, and more.
Medicaid is a state and federally-funded program that offers healthcare coverage to low-income individuals and families. The program covers many of the same medical services as Medicare and long-term care expenses such as nursing home care.
Being a caregiver for aging parents can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. However, prioritizing your mental health while still caring for your loved ones is essential in making your work easy and enjoyable. By practicing stress-relief techniques, maintaining a positive attitude, and seeking support from community resources and support groups, you can ensure that your caregiving experience is fulfilling for you and your parents.
About the Author
Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker with Grow Therapy who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns. www.growtherapy.com