By Rebecca Lippel
There seems to be an evolution to the life cycle. We begin as dependent infants and children in absolute need of our parents to protect and nurture us.
The teen years appear to be a time to push away from that same protection and nurturing we crave when entering the world. During one’s 20s and 30s there is constant work being done to establish one’s personal self and life as a whole. However, it seems once we creep into our 40s and 50s we begin to experience something we never expected and are largely unprepared for; we begin to become our parent’s parent and assume the role of caregiver.
Over 20 million Americans are members of the “sandwich generation,” labeled so because their role often consists of caring for younger children and an older family member.
The role of a caregiver is one of the most stressful and overwhelming roles anyone can experience. It is a constant battle between wanting to provide the best care and services for your loved one and living your own life.
It is not uncommon for caregivers to get so involved in their loved one’s life that the privacy and independence line begins to blur.
An overcompensation of care could potentially create a more troublesome situation for the individual being cared for and his/her well-being and the relationship between the adult child and the older adult.
It is important to establish an appropriate level of involvement between caregiver and loved one. Frequently, caregivers begin to feel guilty that they cannot do more or feel so overwhelmed they resent the older adult needing the extra care.
This tends to be common among caregivers because we cannot magically make problems disappear. Human nature causes us to care for others but to still fulfill our own needs, which is a struggle for some.
As a caregiver the goal is to obtain the best care and information for your loved one. However, with such an abundance of information available, confusion is expected. Keep the following helpful tips in mind to make the situation more comfortable for all involved.
Ask for help. All caregivers feel overwhelmed at some point but there is family, as well as friends and a substantial range of professional services designed for caregivers.
Check out the local support groups for caregivers.
Create personal time for yourself and the individual you are caring for. Spending too much time together in any situation can often create tension.
Involve your loved one in plans that affect them directly. For example, if you receive materials about a senior center or adult day program share it with them, discuss the information and engage them. People generally want to feel in control of themselves and have the ability to make decisions affecting their lives, by stripping them of that right the aging process accelerates and depression becomes a threat.
Do not treat your loved one like a child or speak to them in a condescending manner. People have the right to age with dignity and respect. With the presence of health issues, loss of friends and family and change in lifestyle, the aging process can be a difficult transition for some. Be patient and work with them.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for caregivers and no one has all the answers. The difficulty is that we are returning the favor to our parents from when they cared for us but for many it is not an easy situation.
Identify what works for you and utilize community resources available for caregivers, ask for help and know your limits. Remember to separate yourself from the caregiver role periodically and simply be a devoted family member your loved one needs you to be.
Rebecca Lippel is the manager of Family Centers’ Friendly Connections senior outreach program in Connecticut. With offices in Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and New Canaan, CT, Family Centers is a United Way partner agency that offers counseling and support programs for children, adults and families.