All of us want our elderly parents and relatives to be well cared for. Yet, despite the very best of intentions, we may be unable to do everything that is needed for our elders.
Meeting an elder’s needs can be exhausting and lead to a sense of failure. One critical element of effective caregiving is to learn to set limits for yourself.
Determine what you can and cannot do for an elderly relative. Doing so will help you establish and maintain a healthy relationship with your elder.
Caring for an elderly parent or relative is done best when it is a positive choice — not when it feels like an obligation or imposition. Look at your motivation and ask yourself “why do I want to help?”
The motivation for caregiving, unfortunately, too often arises from a sense of guilt or desire to repay a parent for what they’ve given you. A parent’s gift of life and rearing are not debts to be paid back – there is no way to do that. Caregiving can be motivated also by a desire for parental recognition, approval or closeness. Acting from a sense of guilt or need for approval may endanger your caregiving of a parent or lead to disappointment for you and your parent.
To determine what is best, begin by identifying your elder’s needs: the physical, social and emotional caregiving that may be required. What does your elder need to remain well cared for in his or her current environment? How much is the elder capable of doing independently?
The input of a professional may help you to understand your elder’s needs and to determine the best approach to take. Is dad’s refusal to walk alone based on a bona fide physical limitation? Is it rooted in fear? Is it the result of desiring attention? You can learn how much help is needed and what private and public resources are available to assist.
Once you determine the types of assistance an elder requires, decide what you are able to provide. Consider how your time at caregiving will affect other areas of your life, such as your relationship with a spouse or children or your career.
As you consider how to help an elder, do not underrate your own needs. As an airline attendant advises when starting on a journey, “the able person puts on their oxygen mask first.” During a crisis, elder care concerns may lead to temporary disruption in your life. But don’t allow long-term disruption. The health risks to you, the elder and to the relationship between you outweighs the benefits of putting your life “on hold.”
Don’t over promise what you will do. Be conservative in deciding how much assistance you can provide and how available you will be. It is better to promise less and do more, than to promise more and not fulfill your commitment.
If your elder wants you to do more than you can, be firm in your resolve. Focus on what you are doing and don’t let the focus shift to what you are not doing. Acknowledge the elder’s feelings with a simple, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” rather than giving a lengthy explanation that will merely exhaust you without satisfying the elder.
When you think about what you can and want to do for an elder relative, consider these questions:
- Am I acting to relieve my own anxiety?
- Does this situation truly demand my involvement or can somebody else meet this need for my elder?
- How will my involvement impact other parts of my life?
- Am I trying to meet someone’s standards other than my own?
Learning your limits and to say “no” are signs of strength. Make your caregiving a positive choice, rather than a response to guilt or a sense of duty. Doing so will give you more patience and energy for the care you do provide.