Taking on the task of care giving can be challenging but rewarding. If you are an adult child who is the primary caregiver for an elderly parent, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of others. Here are some more tips for avoiding caregiver burnout:
Talk early and often with your parent. Many older Americans are private about their personal lives. Initiate the conversation by discussing how you're planning for your own future, or elicit a doctor's help in starting the conversation. Elderly people often are more receptive to their doctor's promptings about living wills and health care proxies than when their children raise the issue. Once prompted, they often will act.
Don't make promises you can't keep. Most people want to age in the place they call home, but that's not always feasible. Ask your loved ones what their goals are. Talk about what can be done to help them age gracefully at home as long as possible. Ask who they would trust if they lose the ability to make decisions. Remember your spouse or partner. Don't feel guilty about your taking time to be with the people who care about you.
Use humor. To get my father to use his walker, I once told him, "If you fall and break your hip, my reputation as a nurse advocate will be ruined."
When others ask what they can do, take them up on it. Be practical. Have a list ready. Assign them a task. Achieve a balance of what your parent can do and what you can do for them. One client had a routine every Saturday where she visited her mom. She wrote out her checks, but her mom was still making the decisions; and the daughter took comfort in knowing that mom's bills were being paid on time.
Acknowledge the efforts of siblings who have the day-to-day care. A simple thank you goes a long way. Even if you're at a distance, consider making doctor's appointments or arrangements for help in your parent's home, transportation, or Meals on Wheels. Make frequent phone calls to your mom or dad; older people are often lonely. If it's difficult for them to communicate by phone, mail them a quick handwritten note. Let them know you're thinking about them.
Use community resources. Many local nonprofit organizations and government agencies are dedicated to helping both seniors and their caregivers.
Care giving can be a 24/7 job. Try not to go it alone or burnout might set in. Keep the lines of communication open, ask for help and stay connected to the rest of your life.