Looking after yourself when you're looking after mum and dad

Looking after yourself when you're looking after mum and dad

Zelda West-Meads, agony aunt for You magazine in the Mail on Sunday, explores the challenges of parent care

When we love our parents and they have always been there for us, seeing them getting old and frail is incredibly hard. Our life started with them looking after us but in old age that is reversed and we feel it’s our turn to look after them.

Coping with a life change

Most children will want to do the very best for their parents but the reality of seeing them suffering and the fear of losing them when they will no longer be part of our lives is very painful.
Even in situations where we have perhaps felt they haven’t been the best of parents, most people will still feel they should take on that responsibility and make sure their parents are safe and cared for in their old age.

Making choices

There are so many decisions to make:

  • Do they stay in their own home and have carers coming in or do they need to go into a home?
  • Do you give up your job and become their carer?
  • How much do you listen to what they say they want and how much should you be prepared to do to meet their wishes, or in some cases demands?

It is so hard when that is not what they want. One woman I know, whose parents are in their nineties live miles away from her and are both very frail, yet they insist on doing things for themselves. She had to use every ounce of patience to persuade them even to let in a home help three times a week.

Taking care of yourself

It is all too easy to do everything that we possibly can but that can mean we are so intent on getting everything right for them that we forget about ourselves. But it is so important to look after yourself too. It is not selfish.
If you don’t, it could have a real impact on your health and happiness and equally importantly on your relationship with your husband or partner, your children and even your relationship with your grandchildren.
And remember that if you get ill, you won’t be able to look after anyone.

Making decisions about your situation

Don’t rush into giving up your job as it could be a necessary source of income as well as giving you pleasure and self-esteem. Remember that it might also be very difficult to get another job when the inevitable does happen.

Sharing the challenges

Hopefully, you will be able to share some of the care with your siblings, but looking after elderly parents is particularly hard on an only child.
If you have a loving partner, perhaps they would be willing to do more of your chores at home for a while to free up time to see your parents, or you may have young adult children who would help.
If your parents live nearby, of course make time to drop in and check they are all right and to provide company or take them out somewhere nice.
If they need more than that, then find good carers or get in touch with social services if they are entitled to state care.

Considering care homes

Many people see nursing and care homes as an absolute last resort, but do some research – there are good ones around.
Rather than your parents having to sell their home and lose the capital, it may be possible to rent it out to help cover the costs.
You may have to make the decision for them. Often parents are very resistant to getting carers in or going in to a home, but don’t let them make you feel guilty.
Explain very gently that you love them very much but that they need more help than you can provide alone. They may object to start with but they usually come to terms with it.
One older person said to me after moving to a home: ‘I was lonely sometimes in my own home but I have made some good friends here.’

Getting advice

It’s a very daunting time. For more advice both practical and emotional on this huge subject, start with the NHS advice on caring for an older relative at www.nhs.uk.

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