For many reasons, not everyone can be the primary caregiver for their aging parent. An elderly man may not live in proximity to more than one or two of his four adult children, for example. It may make more sense for such an elderly person to move closer to one adult child, to stay in place, or to go to a care facility situated between two of the adult children. One adult child may be particularly busy with his or her own children or work, may travel frequently, or may have health concerns that prohibit giving care to an aging parent. Those logistics—and many, many more—can often leave the caregiving burden distributed unequally.
This is not inherently bad or unfair. It is just how life happens—inconveniently, often with little warning, and never simply. This means that some end up with the lion’s share of the caregiving work, and others are left doing much less of the day-to-day work.
How do you deal with not being the one there every day? Many relatives find that they want to help, but are unsure of where to begin.
A common reaction to not being able to assist frequently with caregiving is feeling guilty. This is a normal response!
Questioning yourself constantly—Am I doing enough? Am I calling enough? Could I help out more financially? Does my parent know how much I care if I’m not there?—is a self-defeating process. Addressing this guilt is important. Express it to your loved ones and ask what more you can do, if you are able; commit to trips to relieve the primary caregiver for a week, for example, so that they can avoid burnout. Send cards or pictures to your elderly parent, in addition to phone calls, to let them know that you are thinking of him or her. Take small steps every day or every week to address this guilt and use it productively, rather than allowing it to make you sullen or sad.
How to Help Your Family Caregiver
Caregivers often sacrifice their personal needs in order to give care. Identifying ways you can help your family member take care of themselves will help them take care of your elderly parent.
Offer to make a few phone calls or handle some logistically difficult or time-consuming tasks for them. If calling Medicare and dealing with billing offices will mean less time caring for an elderly parent, take that task off their hands and allow them that time for other activities.
Offer to take time to visit and care for your elderly parent…
Many caregivers experience a lack of time for themselves or their own close family members. Offer to take time to visit and care for your elderly parent, if possible, or seek out respite care facilities in the area, which will allow for elderly people to stay for a short period of time in order to give caregivers a chance to relax and catch up.
Check in with the caregiver about his or her own health. Make sure the caregiver is eating well and exercising, visiting a doctor regularly, and seeing a therapist or counselor if necessary. If the person needs time or resources, offer to do the research to find a doctor nearby or send a care package of delicious treats. Taking the time to think about them and prioritize their health will, hopefully, inspire the caregiver to stay healthy and happy. It also lets the person know that you are thinking of them and not just your elderly parent, and that you recognize the caregiver’s effort and sacrifices. This can go a long way in making the caregiver feel loved and appreciated, two feelings which can be hard to come by in difficult, emotional situations like caregiving.
See if there are resources in their area that can help them deal with stress. There are community support groups and organizations in many places across the country, especially in urban areas, and they are all over the Internet. Doing the legwork of finding these groups and services leaves less work for any caregiver to do.
Be Actively Involved (and Actively Grateful!)
Setting up a monthly or weekly “care management call” is vital to making sure you’re kept up-to-date with your elderly loved one’s health. This is how you can determine what your family member needs as far as help with caregiving. Be willing to do what needs to be done, and make sure the caregiver knows how grateful you are for his or her hard work.
Medicare.gov. Ask Medicare. Tips and Resources for Caregivers. Available at https://www.medicare.gov/files/ask-medicare-tips-for-caregivers-care-for-yourself.pdf. Retrieved 2/2/2016.
Yosuico, Isabella. 9 Tips for Removing Caregiver Guilt. Care.com. Available at https://www.care.com/a/9-tips-for-coping-with-remote-caregiver-guilt-1207130751. Retrieved 2/2/20167.