JUNE 2, 2000
Getting Comfortable As A Caregiver In Your New Role
By: Gail R Mitchell
For those of you who are new, you may want to
check the "New to Caregiving" article in our
archives to familiarize yourself with what
caregiving is all about.
Stepping into the role as a caregiver presents
many challenges depending on who it is you are
caring for. If you are caring for a child there are
very specific issues you need to become aware
of. If you are caring for a spouse, there are
probably many new daily obligations that you will
be taking on since your spouse may no longer be
able to fulfill his/her responsibilities in the
relationship. This may include daily tasks around
the house, being the main income provider and
So much will shift and there is a lot of adaptation
that you must still do to keep the relationship
loving and safe to continue growing and
communicating in. In the case of many of you,
role reversals will take place as you begin taking
on responsibility in caring for your parent or an
elderly loved one.
For now we will focus on caring for your parent or
elderly family member who is still coherent and
functioning on their own.
Taking on the responsibility as an adult child in
caring for your parent is both extremely
challenging and confusing. The most important
issue your must remember is to make choices
to keep them as independent as possible.
It is up to you to learn how to communicate
effectively with them, as most parents of our
generation tend to be very in adept at expressing
their feelings, wants and needs. As boomers, I
am sure all of you can remember back to the
sixties when all havoc broke out Everything was
about the "generational gap." Generally speaking,
when it comes to our parent's expressing
themselves, the unfortunate truth is that the "gap"
still exists, so you must acquire tools and skills
to empower yourselves as well as empowering
your loved one. And the truth is that many of
you still see yourself as the child just as your
parents do, so the role reversal must be taken on
gently, especially if your parents are coherent and
capable of making wise decisions. If they are not
coherent, it is a whole different undertaking. Slowly
we will be addressing all the different situations
that may come up.
As you already know, life spans are increasing
more and more as the result of the advances in
medicine. Also many parents have done things
to make their elderly years a more positive
experience for themselves through exercising,
eating better and keeping their mind active as
well. However, medicine has also prolonged
life and many of our parents are no longer
capable of performing daily functions that keep
their lives balanced such as: driving, walking,
preparing their own meals, dressing, paying
bills and more. They may have difficulty in being
alone if their spouse has passed away. There
are many areas that you must assess in order
to determine what they need. Taking on this
role of overseeing and caring for them
necessitates you learning as much as
you possibly can so that the decisions, which
will be made, are made are for the highest good
of all concerned.
You may be thinking right now: "How do I know
what to do and when? " "Am I making the right
decisions?" "Am I capable of taking on this role?"
"How do I find the balance of caring for my parent
when I work full time and have my own family to
take care of?" And possibly, you may be saying
to yourself, " My own health is failing, how can I
do both?" Or "I live a long distance from my parent,
how am I going to be able to make sure they are
All these questions are normal and valid to an
adult child who is thrown into this role. Remember
you are not alone. Your work will be to gather as
much research and information to help you discern
what is appropriate for you and your parent.
You will need to learn how to delegate your time,
how to set boundaries, how to communicate more
effectively, how to say no, and organize your time
as well as theirs.
First it is important for you to ascertain whether
or not their mental or physical abilities have
diminished and by how much. We know that
certain limitations develop as we age, but to
what extent is the most important factor. If the
factors that present themselves to you are
more serious in nature, then you will have to
intervene in an entirely different manner.
Some of the facts you must assess are as follows:
Is my parent capable of preparing meals, dressing
themselves, able to get around on their own?
Is my parent social? Are they happy? Are they
depressed and living in utter isolation?
What are their mental faculties like at this time?
Are they capable and responsible in paying their
bills? Are they showing signs of memory loss where
it can become a detriment to themselves? Are
they able to take their medications according
to the doctor's prescription? Are they able to
speak up for themselves and still get their needs
met? Is their decision making process a detriment
to their health and well- being? Are they able to
maintain their home on the inside as well
Hopefully if your parents need help, they will
ask for it but what if they don't. Are you going
to be able to do all that is required to protect
them in the proper way to maintain and keep
the quality of their life up? If you are unable to
even begin processing this evaluation process in
terms of giving yourself answers to the questions
posed here, then, perhaps, you need to hire a
professional such as a Geriatric Care Manager,
a therapist, who can assess and evaluate your
parent's situation properly. Even meeting with
their primary physician might point you in the
right direction. Getting the support you need to
make clear decisions as to the care your parent
needs should be your priority.
If you decide to take the role of caregiver on
permanently, you must enroll the support of as
many family members, close friends and
neighbors and professionals to assure your
parents of getting the quality help they deserve.
Keep in mind the feelings your parent might be
experiencing at these times as well; their loss
of a spouse, the loss of independence, their
physical losses, loss of friends. They may also
be feeling guilt, shame or embarrassed at having
to rely on you or others for help.
Keep your parent independent by involving them
in choices and decisions. There are always
options. If you are not able to care for them
properly, bring in a professional who can advise
you and your parent. If your parent(s) need(s)
to be living in a situation other than on their
own in their own home, there are options. Be
well informed rather than controlling and
There are many alternatives to keep your
parent(s) busy during the day such as senior
centers, adult care and more. Remain calm,
balanced and focused in caring for yourself
as well as your loved one.
We look forward to the opportunity of serving
you. We welcome your comments, suggestions,
Please feel free to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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