Looking after an Elder parent – especially if they are UNWELL (physically or emotionally)

Many adult children (especially in Asian societies such as India) have elder parents (or another relation) living at home with them. In many cases, the family enjoys the benefits of a joint family with its ups and downs. However, increasingly adult children are taking care of ageing parents who are not well – physically or emotionally. This could include elders who are bedridden for any reason, or are suffering from difficult disorders such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and so on.

The small size of homes, managing other family members, and intense work schedules puts tremendous pressure not only on the adult caregivers, but also on the affected elderly person. These tips may help you manage the relationship and the situation a bit better:

Acknowledgement – The simplest (perhaps the most difficult?) is to acknowledge what the elder is going through. Most times we find it easier to pass off interactions with statements such as, ‘it will get better’, ‘don’t complain so much’, ‘it’s in your head’, ‘be brave’, ‘why are you feeling this way’, ‘count your blessings’… and so on. What we’re really saying is: Why don’t you shut up? or Why doesn’t this situation disappear? Essentially this reflects our unwillingness or lack of patience or irritation at the disruption that the situation causes us. And, that is true! It is very difficult for an adult child to see the elder in pain, disabled or depressed.

However, the elder sees those statements as a devaluing of what they are going through. They feel alone, misunderstood, and abandoned because their loved ones do not understand, or accept, or validate what they are going through. So, take a moment and acknowledge the reality of what they are going through – the physical pain, the helplessness of being bedridden, the isolation of depression. Tell them you see it! Tell them that you understand their pain and feel it too. Acknowledge their reality – with them.

Compassion – After a point in time, the logistics, stress and fatigue of managing elder care takes its toll on the caregiver. Compassion is a casualty! Especially when the elder is particularly difficult, irritating, and rebellious. The caregiver can reflect these feelings by being abrupt, angry, distancing or even rejecting. Compassion leaches out of the relationship.

Bring back compassion by recognizing that the elder’s behavior is a reflection of fear, or an indication of how terrible they feel inside. These feelings are pent up with no one to talk to them or understand what they are going through. Now is the time for you to look at the elder (and their situation) with compassion, and reflect this compassion in as many ways that you can.

Connection – A casualty of long-term illness is that, slowly, the elder gets isolated. He/she is not able to connect with the relationship networks of so many years because of physical immobility, or because they don’t feel like it (this happens especially when they are depressed). For elders who have derived their identity and meaning from these connections, it is like a plant being pulled from the soil by its roots. They lose their source of emotional sustenance. Isolation can lead to chronic depression, which can often be missed in eldercare. So, encourage them to be connected with their stakeholders in all possible ways, including leveraging technology such as Skype, inviting their friends and relations to visit them, encouraging them to step out into the community if possible and so on. Connection is a great healer!

For an adult caregiver, elder care can become a tiring and traumatic phase. If you are struggling with it or have an elder who is struggling, then counseling can be helpful. Feel free to reach out to ajayglobalcoach@gmail.com

Reference: O’Hanlon, B. (2014). Out of the blue: Six non-medication ways to relieve depression (First ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.


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