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.



Caregiving and Time for Self

  • One reality is that we can’t stretch a 24-hour day.
  • A second reality is that–and we all know this, but easier said than done, those entrusted with caregiving must take care of themselves.
  • A third reality: it’s hard not to push ourselves….just this one time or just a little bit more…but it’s not good for us if it must continue over an extended period.
  • And the last reality–at least for me–is that my time for keeping up with my blog remains in short supply for the time being.

Having set mental markers in my head to warn me of when my ability to remain helpful to anyone, even myself, is at risk–I have asked for help several times since my husband’s surgery to replace his aorta and mitral valves on February 4.

While we planned to go to the Southwest the beginning of April and had been cleared by doctors to go, there was a serious issue connected with the surgery, that hospitalized my husband on April 1st….and he is still hospitalized, although we’re hoping he can come home in a few days.

So the help I now need is finding a bit of time for myself–something I’ve done to a small extent each week. Yet as this hospital routine continues, and time walking, running, taxi-ing, bus-ing back and forth to the hospital continues to eat up time, I need more rest or unassigned time, as well as time to prepare for his homecoming.

With no family members east of the Rockies, the ultimate caregiving responsibility is mine. Good friends are a blessing and have been wonderful. With many friends in the counseling profession like myself, there’s a certain supportive understanding that most people don’t have.

For now I take a break from my blog and will get back when I can….hoping it will be soon.


Help Aging Parents Must Postpone

Since my husband’s heart valve replacements on February 4, I’ve continued to post weekly–albeit not always on Saturday night. Two months after the surgery, as we prepared to fly–with doctors’ clearance– to the Southwest for the sale (closing) of his mother’s home, a major problem connected with the valve surgery occurred.


Trip cancelled,  We went straight from the cardiologist’s office to the hospital for observation and diagnosis.

Mt. Sinai heart is ranked #7 in the country. A specialist in heart repair was called in and doctors felt the best choice was a procedure that–although less risky than another major surgery–carried with it other concerns, as all procedures usually do.

“Misery is not a competitive sport.” I’ve remembered  these words from decades ago, spoken by Ann Kliman who, with her husband, Gilbert, founded the Center for Preventive Psychiatry in Yonkers, NY back then. Thus, I leave out details–except to say progress is slow and my husband is still hospitalized, now in a getting-ready-to-go-home unit.

I’m at the hospital first thing each morning to catch the  doctors on their initial morning rounds around 7 am.and don’t get home until rather late at night. Since it’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves and currently sleep is in short supply, for me, I will complete this when time allows…. .but not tonight.

Help Aging Parents–Post Written, but Vanished–Caregiver Stress?

What a surprise to awaken this morning and find yesterday’s I-thought-published post missing—gone, nowhere to be found. Help! Aging Parents’ goal is to share the best information and some creative ideas to help the elders we care about age as well as possible. With my husband’s recent heart valve surgery, I’ve been more focused on helpful caregiving ideas and yesterday decided to offer some personal reflections. For the first time in the history of this blog, they vanished.

I had written about stress–our cancelled plans to fly this past Tuesday to warm weather and sign the closing papers for the sale of my husband’s mother’s home. Doctors gave the necessary permission two weeks ago, following my husband’s heart valve surgery in February. But all changed at the end of last week when the new mitral valve developed a hole. (That’s my layperson’s term. I’m a counselor, not a medical professional. Medical information is only available by clicking links–usually from highly respected sources like Mayo Clinic and often in Newsworthy.)

My husband was immediately hospitalized. The delicate balance of best available options as we age needed careful thought.  In this case the blood thinner that’s given for 3 months to ensure the new heart valves (he has cow’s valves) won’t get clots–presented a challenge  A procedure to plug the hole took place Wednesday and was successful, but an unintended consequence occurred after the procedure. So the hospital routine and resulting stress continues…!

My mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home was sold. The closing was this past Friday–2,000 miles away.  Since his mother died, the home became my husband’s. We planned to be there for the closing–obviously couldn’t. Thus, I needed to sign the many legal papers and that required an original POA (power of attorney) document which the NY law office held for safe-keeping. (We had copies–not accepted for this sales transaction, That requirement may vary by state). We had also purposely left certain items in the home to be taken out before the closing. Friends and family were invaluable in helping this effort, but I also needed to organize this last minute activity.

A lot of juggling, a lot of time involved, a lot of emotion and stress this week…which I thought was under control until my post–supposedly published last night–disappeared. I’m thinking we probably live with the illusion of control–and that is a good thing.

Will post again as time permits




Help Aging Parents: Caregiving–A Caregiver’s Story

As parents age concerns about heavy-duty caregiving are common. The NY Times published  a powerful piece in early March. Elizabeth’s experience as told to NY Times science/geriatrics-writer/columnist, Paula Span will resonate with many caregivers, Alzheimer’s caregivers or not.

            Living with the parents I’m losing to Alzheimer’s:

     One night recently my dad was so confused, up so many times, and I was exhausted and full of frustration and anger and overwhelming grief. I just went in there and cried in his arms, begging him, “Please, go back to sleep.” He didn’t understand, but he was holding me and crying, too, and saying, “I’m so sorry. I’ll do better. I’ll do better.”
     I don’t know how to describe that feeling, where you just don’t feel like you can go on anymore. And I know I have a lot of things on my side relative to other people in this situation. A supportive husband. Paid help.
     We just got a grant from the organization Hilarity for Charity. They gave us 25 hours of care a week for a year. We also have a caregiver from one of the state programs. So now we have help Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sunday mornings.
     But most of the caregivers …..
     There was a point in May of 2013 — we’d been here two and a half years — when we had plans to move my parents into a facility. We were going to do a respite stay, and if they fit in, if it went well, we’d sell the house.
     We did everything we could — we brought couches and furniture from their bedroom — to make the place feel homelike. But it wasn’t home. For my dad, it lasted three days. He started having panic attacks, to the point where he was throwing up.
     He was still with it enough to call us. I remember getting a message from him, weeping. “It’s Daddy. Please, me and Mom want to come home.”
     Everybody, including his doctor, said, “You have to leave him, you have to let him adjust.” I couldn’t do it. I would never judge the people who do, but I couldn’t.

Click title link above to read complete piece.

We try to help parents age well. We give our all. As Grandma said many years ago, “Angels can do no more.”

(I don’t want this to be too long so follow-up will be Tuesday–Caregiving: Ever feel you want to scream)
Related:   Aging Parents, Grandparents and Loved Ones: Can Family Members do it All?

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

Aging Parents: Forcing Resistant Parents to Do What’s In Their Best Interest


Sticky subject requiring careful treatment. As a high school counselor I was no stranger to dealing with sticky subjects that could threaten life and limb. There’s a delicate balance between what we’re professionally mandated by law to do, and concern about maintaining a valued relationship and sense of trust that we’ve worked hard to develop.

Likewise, a delicate balance exists between forcing aging parents to do something for their own good when life and limb are at risk and maintaining a close, loving relationship. Plus–guilt can weigh heavily. Can we force resistant parents to do what’s in their best interest when they’re dead set against it, maintain our relationship, and have no guilt?


  • When elders don’t have “a good head on their shoulders” and their judgment is impaired. It’s painful but we must force them to do what’s in their best interest if there’s a threat to life and limb–their’s or other’s.
  • If our parents’ situation is significantly impacting our physical health–actually we have two choices: Bring in a professional caregiver to help full-time until we’re strong again (and get away for 6-7 days asap–break the stress), or shift responsibility to a care facility. If we’re psychologically worn down, do the above.               —Otherwise google to find family counseling agencies, explain your situation and talk with a social worker–possibly a geriatric social worker. Otherwise we effectively help no one.
  • When parents’ physical/health issues (eg. vision, balance, mobility) require living/driving changes to avoid accidents (risk to life and limb).
  • When awareness of terrible decision-making necessitates forcing parents to turn over financial or other responsibilities to us or someone we choose.


–The option of non-negotiable “force” is always there–unpleasant as it may be. With stubborn parents we may need to be “flat-footed” and use it.

–When parents are old and there’s no immediate pressure to change a situation, adult children who continue to pressure, find many elderly parents eventually give in.


One size doesn’t fit all. If we know ourself, one of the following strategies may feel right.

1. When parents strenuously object, if immediate change isn’t necessary, figure out how to back off gracefully, then tread lightly, slowly and patiently–working towards the original goal in whatever way works.

2. The straight-forward approach presents a narrow range of well-thought-out options (not dictated must-do’s). Parents are involved in decision-making. Begin with objective observationMom you sideswiped a car and had a near-accident this week. Then show understanding: Of course it’s upsetting; what do you see as options?  Next, listen, she may suggest something reasonable you haven’t thought of. If not, give options, making certain to include the most acceptable, realistic one you can think of, like infolving a doctor–Do you need an eye exam? (If the doctor says vision is too ify to drive, s/he can be the “bad guy.”)

3.  The light-hearted approach using humorous exaggeration–I know you wouldn’t mind having a chauffeur-driven limo at your disposal every day and if we win the lottery it’s yours; but in the meantime we need a practical plan. Now go back to #2.

4. The majority wins approach is powerful; basically non-negotiable. Needed: at least 1 sibling, preferably 2 or more. If all–or 2 or the majority–agree on what to do, the message is something like: We’ve thought long and hard about this. There’s no perfect solution, but we are uncomfortable with your continuing to drive. Here are the options….”

5.  The easy-way-out: Have a respected “someone else” deliver the bad news: doctor? insurance company?

It’s difficult to be objective where family is concerned, especially parents. They’re our parents. We have a long history (good and/or not-so-good) together. There may be unresolved emotional baggage that prejudices us thus, compounding the difficulty. Realizing this is an advantage. Another advantage: we usually also know what pushes our parents’ ” buttons” and can consciously avoid it.

There’s one booby-trap: past promises that must be broken. If a promise has been made, never to put a parent in a care facility, for example, the difficulty is compounded. Click Mitzi’s promise–she wanted it shared.

We try to help parents age well. “Angels can do no more.” (Grandma’s saying.)

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

Aging Parents: How Dangerous is Caregiving to One’s Health?

11% of family caregivers report that caregiving has caused their physical health to deteriorate. [The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP–2009), Caregiving in the U.S. National Alliance for Caregiving. Washington, DC.] – Updated: November 2012

Family caregivers who are in good health are in a better position to help parents age well. No surprise here.  Reading the statistics about family caregivers’ health several years ago was sobering. The Family Caregiver Alliance’s  2012 “Selective Care Statistics Fact Sheet,” reports: “of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age is 63 years with one third of these caregivers in fair to poor health.” The November 2012 report’s fact sheet is easy-to-read but long. However, it’s well-organized by topics–eg. gender, age, impact on working female caregivers, gender and care tasks–making selective reading easy. Example:

Impact of Caregiving on Caregiver’s Physical Health

While researchers have long known that caregiving can have deleterious mental health effects for caregivers, research shows that caregiving can have serious physical health consequences as well, 17% of caregivers feel their health in general has gotten worse as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. [AARP Public Policy Institute Valuing the Invaluable: 2008 Update. The Economic Value of Family Caregiving] – Updated: November 2012

Research shows an estimated 17-35% of family caregivers view their health as fair to poor. (Valuing the Invaluable: 2011 Update, The Economic Value of Family Caregiving. AARP Public Policy Institute.)  Updated: November 2012

Those who are more likely to rate physical strain of caregiving “high” are female (17% vs. 10% males) and older (21% are 65+ vs. 11% at 18-49). They have lower incomes (19% vs. 11% of those with an annual income of $50,000+), a higher level of burden (31% vs. 9%, of those with a moderate level of burden and 5% of those with a low level), and are living with their care recipient (29% vs. 11% who don’t live together). (National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP–2009, Caregiving in the U.S., A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Age 50 or Older, Bethesda, MD: National Alliance for Caregiving, Washington, D.C.) Updated: November 2012

Read Selective Care Statistics Fact Sheet

Who takes care of the caregiver? Or must we find ways to take care of ourselves?

Related Posts: