Of course, you care about your elderly parent. But it’s becoming clear that you’re burning out and just can’t devote long hours to their needs anymore. Now what?
First, remember that you are not alone. Feelings of guilt and depression are natural but must be addressed for your own mental and physical health. Talking with siblings or supportive family members can help you get perspective on what the next steps must be. There are alternatives. Let’s explore a few.
Start With Your Self
Caregiver burnout is a three-pronged problem, involving physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. As a result, it’s natural if your attitude toward your elder changes. Positive turns to negative. You are not to blame.
Typical Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Here are some scenarios commonly faced by caregivers:
- You weren’t given any tips about how to separate your role as caregiver from the other “hats” you wear, like spouse, lover, parent, friend.
- You put unrealistic expectations on your own shoulders, unrealistic because your parent is suffering from a progressive disease like Parkinson’s. Unreal expectations naturally lead to frustration. Lack of money or specific medical skills can make caregiving even harder to manage.
- You are juggling unreasonable demands from others. You may have put demands on yourself, but it’s more likely that your elder and/or other family members may be putting demands on you, too. For example, if you are the primary caregiver, you may find yourself slowly becoming the only caregiver. That’s usually when feelings of burnout begin.
Caregiver Burnout Symptoms, 101
1. Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones. (Missed that family reunion or a granddaughter’s birthday party? And whatever happened to date night?)
2. Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. (That monthly dinner with your classmates, book club meetings, swim time at the community pool?)
3. Changes in appetite, weight and/or sleep patterns. (Weight gain or loss, getting less sleep, experiencing less pleasure in “favorite” foods? Your body keeps the score on these issues!)
4. Thoughts about hurting yourself or the person you care for. (Calm down. You aren’t crazy; it happens a lot! Negative feelings don’t indicate that you’re a “bad” caregiver. But they are a signal to talk to a third party like a relative or counselor you trust.)
5. Constant irritability from physical and mental exhaustion. (Your teenager told you that you “bit her head off” the last time you spoke? OK, own it and work to develop better coping skills. Make a plan. Maybe it’s time to join a caregiver support group.)
Has Your Parent’s Situation Changed?
Now let’s examine your parent and their living situation. As things change, a caregiver’s burnout risk can increase.
- Is your elderly parent living alone in his/her home or in an apartment with no assisted living facilities?
- Has your parent fallen recently? More than once?
- What observations are trustworthy neighbors or part-time home health aides reporting to you?
- Signs of behavior changes that caring people notice can help you assess the situation. It’s OK to get help.
Let’s look at two situations that can occur with an elder loved one that often trigger conversations about a change.
Have You Noticed Your Parent Is More Confused Lately?
Sometimes confusion leads to a change in one’s internal “clock”. For example, is your parent sleeping during the day and active at night? Dementia may creep into your parent’s mental health at any age.
If so, it’s time to get advice, and perhaps an evaluation from medical professionals at your parent’s family practice center. If your parent is reluctant to see a doctor, perhaps a family member can help persuade them. Delegate tasks to others who care. You can’t do it all.
Has Your Parent Been Hospitalized Recently?
If your parent is hospitalized with a serious medical condition, hospital staff are there to advise you about subacute rehab after the hospital stay. But what happens after they are ready to leave rehab? Will rehab and therapy enable them to go home again? If so, will they need more care? If not, what are your options?
You can call Oasis Senior Advisors and they can walk through home care and assisted living options to consider at this stage or for the future.
But don’t put the cart before the horse. Talk with your parent, in the company of other relatives and hospital staff, before deciding. Be patient. The need for a huge life change can be difficult to explain or understand. The hard part is that you may only have a few days before a hospital discharge date to decide. Remember, there are professionals out there who can help narrow down these options and explain the cost, the procedures and your choices. Once you know the information, you and your family can make an educated decision.
Living Options for Your Parents: What to Consider
As you formulate a decision with your family, don’t lose your focus on what’s best for your elder.
Assisted Living is a great option provided you are not the only one to foot the bill. Discuss this option with your family — siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Discuss you parent’s financial situation frankly and openly, but don’t argue with family members about subjects like “what to do with the house”. It’s not time for that discussion yet. Agree to disagree if necessary.
Money is a touchy subject for certain siblings or family members. Imagine the loud verbal arguments and near-fist fights siblings sometimes demonstrate in the offices of assisted living admissions directors! These demeaning “scenes” happen more than you think. But not to you. Keep your cool. Especially if time is your most pressing issue.
Unless a resident’s health is so compromised — say, by stage four cancer — that a nursing home or hospice are the only remaining options, Assisted Living can offer many benefits to elders. Today there are high-care-needs Assisted Living communities that are alternatives to a nursing home and where your loved one can truly age in place.
Treasured photos on the walls, a comfortable recliner or chair, a brightly lit communal dining room, staff to arrange therapies and transportation via the communities’ van, and a medical technician to personally deliver medicines at the required times of day are just a few of the amenities that may be offered. In some cases, beloved pets are also allowed.
More importantly, personnel are generally not a “revolving door” at an Assisted Living community. Staff retention is higher than at most nursing homes. To a resident, knowing and trusting familiar faces on each shift every day matters a great deal.
Make a checklist of amenities your parent needs or desires, then ask about availability and costs and work with a senior living advisor to narrow down the options.
Easing a Difficult Transition
Naturally, this dramatic and often distressing living change is precisely why many beloved elders resist Assisted Living so strongly. Think about the “living” space, physical and mental, they may be forced to give up.
Your parent may also be thinking of the nursing homes that existed for their elders 30-40 years ago, which could be sad and even cruel places. They might have no idea about today’s much improved options.
Your family goal may be to secure a living environment that will enable your elder to live with dignity. Diligence demands careful assessments. Make them.
Pay attention to word of mouth, a powerful tool in small communities where some Assisted Living facilities are located. Ask around, especially about how the community handled the Covid-19 crisis. This is, in general, an excellent indicator of care, and it will inform your family’s decision.
You can also talk with friends or acquaintances who work at the Assisted Living community you are considering. It may be one of the largest employers in your area. Take a tour. Bring a cell phone to take pictures where permitted, and carry a measuring tape. Remember: your gut feelings matter more than the distance from your home to the community.
Resources Are Out There
There are numerous resources to help you develop a plan. Take care to note sources. Oasis is here to help you understand options for your parent or loved one legally, financially, clinically and socially. Take your time and trust your gut.