Caring for your aging parents — 11 December 2008
Caring for elderly parents a challenge for boomers

If you are a baby boomer, you are likely to be among the thirteen million other adults who are involved in caring for their elderly parent/s or in laws. You are probably active in providing practical daily activity help, medical supervision, financial guidance, and decision consultations. This experience is physically and emotionally taxing on many levels.

According to the 2005 Campbell-Ewald Health survey 56% of baby boomers provide their parents with help on at least a once a week basis and 22% do so daily. The challenges and rewards of caring for aging parents are greatly magnified for the 25% of boomers who actually live together with their parents.

Lori Laurent Smith, Senior Vice President of Campbell- Ewald Health and a health care marketing expert said: “Our research confirms that boomers are committed caregivers who have great influence over their parents’ health care decision-making.” So many of those decisions, which may be easier to make for yourself, are extremely hard to make for parents who are either physically or mentally ill-equipped to do so. .

The role reversal from receiving support, guidance and wisdom from parents to providing it for the parents, bewilders the baby boomers and burdens both generations. Being in charge of the seniors’ affairs while having to safeguard their elders’ self- respect, dignity and autonomy, is a delicate and frustrating task.

Another challenge of caring for elderly parents is watching their parents decline. The deteriorating condition of the parent collides with the boomers’ desire to keep viewing their seniors as active, vibrant, autonomous and self-sufficient. Deep sadness is aroused when the adult child acknowledges the down sliding condition of the parent he/she loves.

It may also, knowingly or unknowingly, frighten the adult children to view their parents’ life course as a precursor to their own. Watching parents decline is disheartening and painful.

Guilt is another common emotion that adult children feel in caring for their parents. Still being healthy, able-bodied and self-sufficient affords the boomers freedoms that are no longer available to the infirmed parents. It is hard to enjoy oneself, knowing that the parent is left behind, unable to partake in equal pleasures.

Frustrations and anger rise for boomers when their parents, who are also conflicted about their own dependence and loss of power, attempt to assert themselves through resistance, displeasure and criticism. Doing one’s best to love, care for and accommodate a parent and then encountering frequent complaints and disapproval, leaves the boomer child feeling unsuccessful, displeasing and defeated.

Though in the above survey 41% of boomers caregivers felt frustrated, 37% were overwhelmed and 25% expressed guilt, the positive emotions they received from helping their parents helped balance their difficulties. 53% of adults caring for elder parents felt appreciated, 51% prided themselves as being responsible, 44% felt they were loving, 24% were grateful and 22% were proud of themselves.

If you are responsible for the care of your elderly parent/s,

• Understand that your role of caring for your parent/s is by definition, a physically and emotionally challenging undertaking.
• If you are caring for your aging parents while still raising your children, as the Pew Research Center estimates 1 in 8 middle aged Americans do, your double –duty challenges create excessive level of stress. You must find ways to de-stress through good self-care, time off and help from others.
• Accept that sadness, guilt, fear, frustration and anger are unavoidable emotions in your challenging situation. Find people who share your lifestyle with whom you can discuss your emotions and receive support, validation and help.
• Invite other family members to help – it lightens your load and enriches them as caring individuals.
• Affirm yourself for being loving, responsible and a proud adult child who models for your children and others how to act and be a decent human being.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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