Caring for Elderly Parents (Part 1)

If you are in your 40’s or 50’s, it is likely that your parents are at an age where they need more help and are increasingly making demands on your time. It can be especially difficult caring for elderly parents, if they are suffering with onset of dementia as well as physical ill health.

The dilemma most of us face is how much of our time we are prepared or able to give them. Most of us are working, whether part or full-time and may still have teenagers at home. We are often called the Sandwich Generation i.e. caught in the middle between children and parents. Dealing with teenagers with attitude is one thing; coping with parents whose behaviour can seem difficult and stubborn is quite another. How to find a balance between respecting their wishes and the need to override their decisions when necessary? It is an uncomfortable position to be in.

To start with, caring for elderly parents may only be a request to take them shopping or to the GP, which is manageable, or helping them with washing/ironing etc. However, there usually comes a point when we realise that although they think they are coping, we know they are not. Their problems may not be enough to justify going into residential or nursing care, but they need more input from us. We find the hospital appointments increasing, requests for help with financial affairs, difficulties keeping up with household chores, memory problems and physical frailty.

Sometimes it’s the small things, like numerous phone calls on a daily basis, which begin to wear us down. It starts to feel like our time is not our own. We may tentatively suggest that they would benefit from a carer coming in for an hour or so each day. This probably doesn’t go down well, as understandably they are striving to maintain some sort of independence.

They may accuse us of interfering or trying to take over their lives. We back off for a while, but are increasingly worried that something will happen if we don’t take action. Unfortunately, it is often the case that it takes an illness, or accident to force the issue. If it is necessary for them to be hospitalised, then the decision is taken out of our hands for a while. We can be left with feelings of guilt and frustration, perhaps wishing we’d done something sooner. If it is clear that the illness or accident has affected them permanently, then the Doctors will make a decision as to whether they need 24 hour care.

To be continued next week…