Aging Parents: When We Invest Ourselves in Caregiving

When we work hard at something, expend great effort–perhaps even go beyond what we thought were our limits–we’ve invested ourselves. Indeed, when we’ve put a lot of ourselves into something it permeates us. Be it caregiving or whatever, it becomes a significant part of life; the major part of life; and for some individuals–their life. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and upset the needed balance to be emotionally and physically healthy.

                               “You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

How many times do caregivers hear that? We needn’t be geniuses to know that food and sleep are necessary for physical health and stamina; but there may be precious little of both due to circumstances beyond our control. It’s also easy to get so caught up in the demands and decisions that we forget priorities. We may think about our needs, but other demands supersede.

  • We skip meals or vitamins or meds, planning to take them later, then forget.
  • We get less sleep, planning to make it up with a short nap that never/rarely happens.
  • We fool ourselves into thinking we can remain in high gear forever, not knowing how long our caregiving will need to continue.
  • We may be in denial that people with certain conditions that require caregiving can outlive their caregiver.

Whether loved ones are at home, in hospitals, or in care centers our lives and routines are impacted. That spills over to physical health and emotions.

On a personal level: Having experienced some of the above almost half of this year, and being aware of the consequences of overextending, I tried to do it right. I ate well (although sometimes only two complete meals+snacks a day), walked about 2 miles daily, but was admittedly often sleep-deprived. Thinking I took care of myself pretty well under the circumstances, I’ve had a shock!

A few weeks ago, I got dressed to go out. I put my iPhone in my pants’ pocket. To my amazement, and almost embarrassment, after taking a few steps the iPhone’s weight (which isn’t much as we know) caused my pants to start sliding down, I put on another pair–same result. I rarely get on a scale, but I did. Scale shock! I’ve lost almost 10% of my weight, and was too busy to realize it until the other day.

Solutions and Remedies
Two Questions:

  1. How does one get more sleep when he or she is called upon to do other things? How does one turn off a racing mind? Why does exhaustion make it harder to sleep?
  2. How do we know when we’re not eating enough?

I contacted a highly experienced counseling colleague (our offices shared a waiting room and secretary years ago) to weigh in on #1. She’s one of the most effective counselors I know– always sees the big picture and has the capacity to “nail things.”  She innately “gets it.” I shouldn’t have been surprised when she lumped #’s 1 and 2 together.

“Sometimes you have to deal with the fact that you’re losing weight and sleep. But you have to accept the fact, otherwise you’re giving yourself additional stress when you already have so much. You won’t starve to death and you may not sleep–but your body will tire eventually and you will sleep.” She continues: “Feeling that you have to sleep, for example, causes stress–it keeps you awake. Focus on the awareness instead of the stress. Whether it’s sleep or eating enough, be aware of your body signals–monitor yourself; and if out of control, seek medical help.” 

                                            Monitoring Ourselves

When during the day do we make the best decisions? have the most energy? have the least patience? Sometimes things seems less solvable and more urgent at night because we’re tired, but in the morning answers and solutions come more easily. Can a walk or a certain amount of time spent exercising help us analyze problems more objectively?

                                                  About Friends

Barb just ended 6 months of 24/7 caregiving in their home, for her husband’s 91-year-old mother who recently died. That plus her private practice and cooking for four people on different diets would have overwhelmed many; being sleep-deprived was the norm. A month later, she has helped me. And that’s where friends come in.

While friends mean well, it’s important to enlist certain friends’ help for certain problems. Good friends always want to help and want the best for us. But we need to think carefully about who’s the best resource for help with a given problem, otherwise we’re vulnerable to more frustration.

If we discipline ourselves to think broadly, and remember the “6 degrees of separation” theory, we should be able to find the best help for those entrusted to our care.

As we invest ourselves in caregiving, we also need to recognize and attend to our needs. To this end the value of certain friends is priceless.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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2 thoughts on “Aging Parents: When We Invest Ourselves in Caregiving

  1. I’ve been away on a break (and away from my computer) so I’m late reading this. Getting enough sleep, paying attention to our mind and body signals, and maintaining connections are three elements a caregiver needs to keep on a level keel. Thanks for once again writing an extremely helpful post!

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