Success & Abundance
Who Put Me in Charge?
When the kids become caregivers for mom and dad.
Published: August 25, 2012
5 tips on caring for elderly parents.
If the headline of this article caught your eye, you are probably middle-aged, the time when, for many, the vulnerability of parents suddenly looms large.
In some cases it is the vulnerability that is sudden: my Dad, for example, had a stroke and became demented overnight. In other cases it is our realization of parental vulnerability that is sudden: it took me two years to acknowledge Mum’s Alzheimer’s.
Either way, the moment of realizing your parents need care is a life-changing moment. The tables have turned; now you must care for them.
I cared for my parents for 14 years. At first I managed their money. Dad had no Lasting Power of Attorney so he was made a ward of the Court of Protection. A nightmare! Then Mum lived with me for five years until six months before her death, she went into a nursing home.
As Mum deteriorated I wrote a blog chronicling the tears and the trauma, and the love and the laughter, of caring. After Mum’s death, hoping to make life easier for other carers, I wrote a book: Keeping Mum: Caring for Someone with Dementia (Hay House 2011). The core of the book is the blog. But there are also hundreds of ‘quick tips’ for carers, practical chapters on finance, social and medical care, and advice on avoiding ‘carers’ fury’.
My plan for this article is to distill this advice into five tips. Aaaargh! Here goes:
Join a Caregivers Organization
The first tip underlines the fact that caring is not something you can do alone. Carers’ organizations (Google “Carers” or “Caregiving” for the organizations in your country) have experts of every kind, waiting to be consulted on your behalf. For free! You’ll also get access to carers’ chat zones where you can let off steam to other carers, and learn from their experience. What’s not to like?
Get Your Extended Family On Board
Continuing the theme “you cannot do it alone,” you need to recruit your family; especially siblings if you have them. Make collaboration your watch word: before you do anything, consult. Resist control-freakery and the belief that you alone can care for your parent(s). Trust in your siblings’ willingness to do their bit, and have the courage to let them do it. You might still end up as the main carer, but with luck you’ll avoid family-destroying isolation and resentment.
Identify Your “Non-Negotiables” And How You Will Get Them
Work out what makes you you, and be determined to get it. Before Mum moved in with me, I thought carefully about this. Realizing that without work, solitude and exercise, I would implode, I set out to care for Mum with this in mind. I didn’t always succeed in getting my non-negotiables, but I succeeded often enough that I never resented Mum or felt I had ‘sacrificed myself’ for her.
Sort Out the Money
To manage your parents’ money (and that you’ll do this is almost a given), you need them to sign a power of attorney that remains valid even in the case of their losing mental competence. My Dad’s failure to sign such a document cost us thousands, and made my life a misery for five years. Check out their wills and the way their assets (especially property) are owned: could their arrangements be unhelpful should they need to fund a care home?
Accept the Inevitable
You probably think your parent(s) would rather die than go to day care or into a nursing home. But your parents are no longer as they once were; their needs are different. You need to cater for these different needs. I resisted both day care and a nursing home for Mum. In the first case I robbed her of her social skills: on starting day care she rediscovered her love of life and enjoyment of other people. In the second case I drove myself into the ground. The time comes when only professional care will do.
I can’t promise that following these tips will make your life as a carer easy. But I can promise it’ll make it easier. The easier you can make it the more relaxed you will be and the more you’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate the fact that you are doing what you can to make the lives of your beloved parents as good as they can be. This will – and should – give you comfort for the rest of your life.
Marianne Talbot left school at 15. She is now Director of Studies in philosophy at Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education, where she specialises in ethics and the philosophy of mind.