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Caring for an Aging Parent

Susan was completely exhausted. She felt as if she was caught in a raging whirlpool, fighting to keep her nose above water, but feeling as if she was being drawn rapidly under. There seemed to be no help in sight.

Her father was becoming difficult to manage. Ever since her mother had passed away several years ago, her father’s health had declined. He was always a bit overweight and had slightly elevated blood pressure, but lately things were different. He was becoming forgetful. He did not take his health or his medications seriously and was eating all the wrong things. In addition, Susan was fearful that his driving was becoming worse. He was less tolerant of other drivers, and his eyesight was diminishing.

To make matters worse, she was beginning to spend more time with her father than with her own family. Her three children needed their mother, and yet, after running her father to his myriad of doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands, she seemed as if she had no more of her left to give.

And now her marriage was in trouble. She and her husband had grown apart. They barely spoke. The kids could do nothing right and her husband was of little help. She resented his ability to work outside of the home; his freedom to come and go as he pleased; his luncheon engagements; and above all, the time that he was able to spend with the children while she was away caring for her father. And of course, by the time the children were asleep, she could think of nothing better than to crawl under the bedcovers and just collapse in sheer exhaustion.

Susan, an adult child, is a member of the “sandwich generation,” caught between the demands of household, family, growing children, and the needs of aging parents. Of course, along with membership in this exclusive club, come the requisite feelings of guilt over the thoughts of not doing enough for loved ones. The frustrations brought on by aging parents who are not ready to give up their freedoms of living on their own, driving a car, coming and going as they please, can seem insurmountable.

If you are feeling like Susan, don’t despair. You are now becoming a part of a process which will require cooperation and organization: cooperation with family and extended family; and organization of family needs, the needs of your aging parents, and of course, planning time for you. You must also define, with the help of your family and parents, what is best for everyone—and you must put yourself on top of the list. If you do not care for yourself first, you will be unable to summon enough energy to care for others.

Assess your strengths, and your weaknesses. Are you better at emotional support but horrible as a financial manager? Are you better at researching and comparison shopping, but balk at the thought of visiting a doctor or healthcare facility? Your weakness may be someone else’s strength. You must learn to delegate, compromise and negotiate. Gather personal information about your parents including: social security numbers; bank accounts; insurance coverage; financial means; the names of doctors and a list of medications. Start networking with senior citizen organizations regarding transportation, support services, health care, respite care, senior centers, and other help for seniors.

Remember that this is a difficult time for your parents as well. The last thing a parent wants is to be a burden to their children. Take a deep breath, and another. Strengthen your own support system including seeking counseling for yourself if needed; give hugs to your family; and learn to be forgiving—especially of yourself. You cannot be everything to everybody.