About 34.2 million Americans currently provide care for a family member or loved one over the age of 50, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Despite these numbers, becoming your parent’s caregiver can be demanding. It often includes advocating for your loved one, coordinating providers and performing medical care tasks at home.
Being prepared for the role of sole caregiver means taking a lot of different factors into consideration. You’ll need to ask yourself hard questions about how your own availability and caregiving capabilities will allow you to provide effective care — for both your loved one and yourself.
Asking those questions early will help you prepare for a role that, for many adults, comes as a sudden surprise, leaving them feeling like they aren’t ready to be caregivers.
This was the case for Martha Stettinius, author of “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir.” She spent eight years as primary caregiver for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and many of the demands of caregiving were unexpected.
“I never imagined that I would become not only the main provider of her appointments, clothing, food, shelter, and transportation, but also her primary source of entertainment and engagement.”
Stettinius continues, “I thought that if I just tried hard enough I could be all things to all people.”
She found herself juggling the roles of employee, mother, and wife, as well as handling all the requirements of caregiving.
“Like all caregivers, I did the best I could with the information and support I could find, but I know now that I would do a number of things differently if I had to do it all again.”
The truth is, being a full-time caregiver can affect your emotional, mental, and physical health. It can have unforeseen effects on your relationship with your parent as well as your relationships with others.
Being prepared for the potential changes of caregiving means asking yourself:
One of the most often-repeated pieces of advice we hear from caregivers is to not forget to take advantage of the many resources that are available. Even if you don’t feel prepared to take on the tasks of caregiving, you can seek assistance from family, friends, and support groups to help you through the difficult times.
Like many other family caregivers, Ann Napoletan thought she could handle everything on her own without support. “In hindsight, I wish I had gotten involved in a support group and dug deeper to find other resources,” says Ann.
“I would have gotten so much out of connecting with others who had been in my shoes. I know I could have benefited immensely from the experience of others when I was so ‘in the dark’ about every aspect of what I was facing.”
This is especially true when a parent is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “Our loved one becomes someone they never were, and over time they lose their filter of things that should not be said, actions that should not happen,” says Leeanne Chames, executive director of Memory People, an Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory impairment support and awareness group.
“Words hurt more than anything else, and hurtful, hateful words are a part of this journey. When they’re directed at the one that is sacrificing their life to help them, it can be devastating.”
Preparing for Alzheimer’s aggression is only one aspect of coping. Often, the best thing family members can do is seek out support from those who understand.
Caregivers may also want to evaluate long-term care options like assisted living or memory care for when the time is right.