We often talk about managing chronic pain, living with a chronic condition, and finding relief when suffering from a pesky, unhealable, but manageable condition. What we discuss less often, though, is chronic pain through the eyes of the caregiver. In this article, we’ll go over caring for your aging parents with chronic conditions.
The Stages of Dealing with Caregiver Support
When caring for parents who suffer from chronic diseases, we tend to go through a specific process.
First, we feel the shock of the diagnosis and all the stress that comes with it. There are also the initial challenges of adapting to this new way of life.
This stage is usually characterized by family members feeling heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Additionally, caregivers tend to run themselves down extensively, trying to ensure the best possible care is provided, and the right diagnosis established.
The second stage comes when that initial frenzy has passed. A diagnosis has been made, a health care plan has been established, and living with this change the best you can is all that’s left.
However, the caregiver doesn’t let up at this stage, not yet. They still drive themselves crazy and don’t take proper care of themselves. They are sleep deprived, eat a poor diet, and perhaps experience a lower quality of life.
The third stage – the one we are looking to help you achieve in this article – is where you find harmony: your elderly parent is being taken care of well, but you, as the caregiver, are also on the mend.
Let’s explore what some of the staples of caring for a parent with a chronic condition are, and how to balance out their needs with your own.
Make Sure It’s More Than Just You
The first mistake most family caregivers make is believing they are enough, and that they can do everything themselves.
While this may be true in the short-term, and while it’s perfectly understandable that you want to take care of your parents yourself, chronic conditions demand long-term and specific care.
Depending on the diagnosis and its severity, your parents may only need a little extra bit of help in their daily lives. Or they may need full-time home care.
Regardless, your level of involvement can’t be all in. You still need to live your own life and take care of yourself, not to mention the other members of your family. Try to arrange with others to provide care in turns and shifts. If it’s just you, at least take advantage of respite care and give yourself some time off.
Keep Track of the Condition
When living with a chronic diagnosis, it can, at times, be difficult to judge if things are getting better or worse. Days can blend into one, and you and your parent can easily forget what happened when.
This is why keeping a pain or progression journal can be of great help. Not only will it aid your parent’s doctors in keeping track of the disease, but you can also spot patterns and predict likely reactions yourself.
Things like sleep, diet, and medication play a huge part in the way our bodies feel and react, so knowing what to expect when your parent eats certain foods or takes certain medication combos will help you provide better care. Your parents will also feel better knowing what to expect on certain days.
Ensure Your Parent’s Safety
Even if you have decided to move in with your parent(s) to help out, you can’t possibly be there all the time. And even if you could, accidents happen in the home more often than anywhere else. Therefore, ensuring your parent’s safety should be at the top of your list.
Look out for fall hazards in the home, make sure all alarm systems are in working order, and set up a system of regular check-ins. This will help you make sure your mind is at ease, and your parents are safe and sound.
Try not to worry too much either – stress and anxiety about your parent’s condition will take a toll on your own health. Give yourself credit for doing all you can for them.
Knowing what you’re up against can do a lot to help you better tackle various obstacles, as well as to cope with all possible outcomes better.
The thing about chronic illness is that it doesn’t usually let up. Certain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will be an everyday cause of pain and discomfort. Others, such as heart disease, can take a sudden turn for the worse. Getting to know about the specifics of a condition will make you a better caregiver.
Explore alternative treatments, look into the latest research in the field, and try to find the best combination of treatments for your specific case, especially how it pertains to older adults.
Joining a support group is also a good choice. Not only will you be able to share your thoughts and emotions with others who are going through something similar, but you will also gain access to different, and perhaps untried, methods of coping.
Talk to Your Parents About What They Want
Make sure you catch your parent on a good day and talk to them about everything you need to know to be able to provide the best care:
- How do they want to live?
- Where do they want to live?
- How much do they want to fight?
- What are their end-of-care directives?
- What is their financial situation?
- Where do they keep important documents?
- What bank do they use?
- And anything else you can think of.
Remember, although keeping your parent alive and well is important, that’s not all you can do. It’s equally important to ensure that they are living the best life they can, and more importantly, the life they want, given the circumstances.
It can often be difficult to find the right balance between something that’s not good for them, but that they want, and something that is good for them, but which they refuse.
Bear in mind that it’s their life and they get to make the choice. All you can do is advise them. You are their child, yes, but you are not their keeper. They are entitled to make their own decisions, as much as they can, while they can.
Remember that caring for a loved one with a chronic condition is not a sprint, but a marathon. Pace yourself so you have plenty of patience in store. It might be a road fraught with challenges, but it is a very rewarding one as well.
What has your experience been with caring for aging parents with chronic conditions?
Share your experience in the comments below.
What questions about caring for aging parents with chronic conditions do you still have?
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