Hope you have read my previous post: How to make your home senior citizen friendly. It’s a great guide to preparing your home for senior citizen care. What you are about to read are 9 things that no one tells you about Senior Citizen care. No one tells you these things because they feel its a process of discovery but most importantly, people don’t want to feel judged. When you read the pointers, you will realise how each point is prone to judgment from society and others.
What noone tells you about Senior Citizen care:
You are walking on a tightrope with a huge burden of responsibilities and just for fun, God has put grease on the tightrope!! You are expected to manage and smile through it all. After all, no one wants to show that their lives are in trouble or in chaos because they need to take care of their parents/in-laws.
This is Parenthood 2.0
Yes, it’s true. Ageing actually brings out the child in your loved one. The same brave father will be timid and worried at the slightest noise or disturbance in the middle of the night. The strong mother, the world’s best cook and your Rock of Gibraltar will be surrounded by insecurities. The mother in law who ruled the home with an iron hand is now forgetful, the father in law who remained unfazed in the face of challenges now needs reassurance and attention all the time. All this can put a tremendous strain on you if you don’t accept this huge change in the life of your loved ones.
Their childish behaviour may irk you but must be dealt with differently. Do you realise that your elders are regressing?
Solution: Take a pause and deal with them the same way that you deal with a little child. Make them understand, motivate them and encourage them with your loving words. Constant positive reinforcement is the only way to bring them back on track. The difference between regular parenthood and parenting senior citizens is that they may take everything you say with a pinch of salt, so be diplomatic in your handling and genuine in your actions.
This is a Patience Test
You can shout, scold and punish a little child, but, how do you deal with an elder who refuses to listen? Yes, your patience will be put to test every living moment. Some examples: you cook their favourite meal with loads of love and they just refuse to eat it. You spend hours requesting them to eat it, even tell them stories and feed with your own hand. Your elder one takes the food in the mouth and spits it out. What would you do?
Take another example where your elder one doubts and questions everything you do. You hand over their daily medications & they doubt whether you have given them the right medicine.
Whenever something goes wrong with them, they may blame you for it. How will you handle this?
Solution: The answer is simple, PATIENCE. For this, I strongly suggest stealing at least 1 hour a day for yourself. Please meditate, practise yoga or your favourite sport or better still go to the gym and sweat out your sorrows.
This is a Time Management Test
The life of an average middle-aged person like us swings between office, home, social gatherings, kid’s school activities, kids classes and maybe an erratic fitness schedule. Meals, medicines and other things find priority in the daily drudgery. Picture this, your son fell ill in the first week of the month followed by your daughter and then your elder one has a fall in the bathroom. How do you keep taking leaves at work? If you don’t work, you cannot pay your bills and if you don’t take leave, you cannot take care of your loved ones. How will you manage? Especially if both spouses are working? If you are a homemaker and reading this, you need to juggle between house responsibilities, social commitments and children.
The question is: how do you effectively manage with less sleep, less time & less focus on work?
Solution: The answer is complicated and can be summarised in two words: TIME MANAGEMENT. You may have to rush to the doctor for an early appointment, fly to work, check on your family during the day and then fly back home in time to take care of them. Hiring a part-time or full-time maid to assist you is one way. Meditation will also help you manage with less sleep.
This is a test of Minimalism
Surely, today’s generation is filled with materialism and the insatiable urge to fulfil needs, wants and desires. One has completed at least a decade of work, earns decently well and loves all the good things in life. However, there is an emptiness in the heart that is filled with material possessions. Take a good look around you, how many things in your home and life do you really need? Do you need that new top? Do you have to go to that social gathering? How important is it for you to wear a new outfit for the next party? Ask yourself these questions.
Apart from the material clutter, you need to declutter your mind and soul from negative thoughts. The consequences arising out of negative actions are just not worth the pain and stress. Start letting go of your prejudices, negativity and frustrations associated with your life. When you are happy, everyone around you will remain happy.
How to declutter your life and mind?
Solution: Begin by making a list of things in the house and start striking off what you don’t need. Either give it away or throw it. Parallelly, start maintaining a diary of everything that you do during the day – it will help you pinpoint exactly what causes you distress. Cultivate a hobby that will help you focus on reducing stress it could be anything as simple as gardening and as complicated as learning a new sport.
This is a test of Unlearning & Relearning
Most caregivers have completed about 10-15 years of married life and own successful career. Even homemakers are successfully managing home, finances and social circles. After parenthood one starts getting more and more responsible and learns so many new things. Loads of new experiences add to one’s learning and we all borderline between “knowing it all” and “success always”. Most of our decisions turn out right (well almost!) and some of us are always in a happy state of continued success.
Now, senior care requires you to not only declutter but also be patient and manage time. At the same time, it requires you to learn new things about your elders and also discover new things about you. E.g. did you know that an elder can have a nightmare at 3 am and completely believe it happened in real life? Did you know that such a situation needs you to counsel them instead of making them pop a sleep medicine? Take another example, your elder may love a particular song or serial on one day and simply hate it on another day. You need to learn how to handle that.
How to do you handle unrelated symptoms, new medicines and new diseases that your elders suffer from?
Solution: Read and educate yourself properly about the symptoms, disease, diet and care for your elder’s specific issue. Don’t blindly follow what one doctor says. Also, don’t simply rely on Google or online Medical for information. Go out and seek support groups, workshops and seek the second or maybe third opinion. Operate out of complete neutrality and strive to keep your emotions away while you research and learn. Remember its the balanced approach and not your emotional reaction that will make your elder feel better.
This is a test of Emotion Management
You as a caregiver and your elderly loved one as a care receiver are constantly battling emotions deep within. In the beginning, as caregivers, you may be super enthusiastic however as time passes by your elders and you will go through myriad emotions together and alone. Your enthusiasm may begin to dim as time goes by. Even in the case of your elders, they may display different emotions. Being in control all their lives, elders may feel a sudden loss of control and overwhelming helplessness. This may give rise to different reactions including anger, mood swings, irritation, doubt, shouting and even extreme alienation. What should you do?
You are as it is struggling with work pressures, children’s pressures and several other stressors. The fear of losing an elderly loved one adds to this pressure and to top it since you are the caregiver the fear of making a mistake can be very overwhelming. Now, understand that elders are going through their own set of emotional upheavals and this coupled with yours can become a very volatile situation at home.
How should you handle your own and your elderly loved one’s emotional upheavals?
Solution: A preachy & cool sounding solution is for one to advise you to “control your emotions”, “have patience” and “try and understand what your elders are going through”. Well, almost everyone will tell you this but no one tells you HOW TO do so. The solution is very simple and requires discipline from your side. At the risk of sounding repetitive, please practise yoga, meditation or indulge in a fitness routine. Simple deep breathing exercises while travelling, 5-minute candle meditation before sleeping, early morning Surya Namaskars will help a lot.
This is a test of Finance Management
Your elders took care of you all their lives and now it is their turn to receive care. This section has been written assuming that you are a person who plans ahead for contingencies, you may have been wise enough to invest in Medical Insurance for you and your elders. If not then this should be your first step. There are several family insurance schemes available in the market, you must opt for one that suits the needs of your elderly loved ones and your pocket.
Now, what no one tells you is that there are a lot of hidden expenses that you need to be prepared for. Right from detergent to floor cleaner to foodstuffs, elders need everything as per their health need and requirement. You need to budget for it and ensure that everything that is essential and important. You may be struggling with bills, EMIs, kid’s school fees and your own needs. Daily essentials for elderly cost money and you must be aware of this.
How should you manage your finances while factoring elderly care in your monthly budget?
Solution: Cut down your own expenses. Buy clothes and accessories only when required. Cut down on your social obligations, trim your outings and keep them to a minimum. If you can’t do this then take up a part-time job or an extra project that will allow you to factor in the additional requirement for money. Save every little penny you can and make your money work for you. E.g. invest small amounts in mutual funds and recurring deposits. You will be surprised how it will help you during times of dire need.
This is a test of Forced Social Alienation
If your elderly loved one is at the hospital or recovering at home post hospitalisation, your entire time and energy are focussed on them. You may be running between doctors, managing children, home and work. In order to relax & destress you may be squeezing in a fitness or hobby routine. Where is the time for yourself, your social life and your hobbies?
Caregivers need care and time for themselves or else caregivers burnout may take place. WebMD defines caregiver burnout as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able — either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
How do you ensure that you don’t suffer from Caregiver Burnout?
Solution: Apart from meditation, yoga and pranayama you need to remind yourself that your work has value. Find ways to communicate with others who are undergoing similar stress as you, maybe join a support group. Organize yourself properly, follow a proper schedule and squeeze in time for your own health. Once in a while take a break, handover your care receiver to a significant other and step out to pamper yourself.
This is a test of Friendships & Relationships
You will be surprised at how the elderly care situation actually becomes a filter for friendships and relationships. These trying times will help you recognize those who are your real well-wishers and keep you far away from fair-weather friends. One way of managing your emotional and physical stress is to use your well-meaning friends and relatives as a sounding board. Nurture the positive relationships in your life and take a pause to appreciate their contribution in making you calmer and capable of coping.
Beware of those who use your state to their advantage and propagate your feelings to the world. E.g. You may have a closed knit family WhatsApp Group where you share pictures of your elderly loved ones. Be careful while you do so, because you may have a smart alec in the family who takes that picture and forwards it ahead and one of the people it gets forwarded to ends up putting it on another family group where 100 of your relatives are present thus making your elderly loved one an object of public pity and even exposing yourself to ridicule and judgment.
How do you handle negative friends and relatives that come as a package deal with such situations?
Solution: Steer clear of controversies and confrontations. Answer phone calls and chat messages of only those who give you peace. Don’t hesitate to politely hang up the phone in case the caller is prodding too much – you are a caregiver, you are supposed to be busy so making “I’m busy, could you call later”, the excuse will work. Try to cut down the drama in your life, be firm and tell relatives and friends to spend not more than 15 min at your home. Indians have a nasty habit of overstaying and don’t be surprised if no one offers help but stays for breakfast, lunch and even dinner – interfering in everything you do throughout the day. Diplomatically handle these situations and ensure negative people & pile-ons are kept at bay.
Do let me know what you thought of this post. I welcome your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on the topic.
Disclaimer: Images are used for representation purposes only. This is not a sponsored post or an endorsement of any kind. The author has written this post through personal experience with her own family members. Feel free to reproduce this post whenever and wherever you want with due credit to Mayura Amarkant.