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Care giving for elderly is becoming more prevalent in America today. Whether because of rising health care rates or the desire of the family to do "Home Instead" care, care giving is becoming the norm. Care giving is basically where you take an adult who is beginning to have the needs of a child and continue to treat them like an adult with love and respect. It is demanding on the family as a whole, but can be a blessing for all who are involved.
I watched the later years of my own grandmother as my sister and mother took over as her caregivers. Continually shuttling her to doctor's appointments, monitoring medications and tending to her fragile, childlike emotions as Alzheimer's began to overtake her mind. Even after she had to live in an Alzheimer's care facility, my mother was still a caregiver. Making sure she had the clothes she needed, checking with her nurses concerning her care, taking her to her doctor's appointments and being there when sometimes only a familiar face was needed. The only way to reasonable success was a strong family support system for the caregivers. Watching the deterioration of a loved one's mind and body can be shattering to the family. The demands of taking care of an elderly person are similar to that of a small child with the constant attention and supervision.
When it became time for my husband and I to assume a caregiver role with his parents, we did not go into it with blind optimism. We knew from my family the demands that we would have to rise to. In less than a year, my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and my mother-in-law was diagnosed with heart disease, eye problems and lung problems. Both were affected to the point that they had to reach out for outside help and we were the only ones in the extended family that had the ability to provide what they needed without having to enter Assisted Living.
When we began, I reached out to my family and to forums to begin a support system. I knew that having a support system was vital for our family to be healthy enough to provide for them. I described above what care giving meant to me, about an adult needing child-like supervision. It's a huge change for everyone in the house and it can be frustrating for all parties. Your elderly loved one is frustrated at not being able to do the things that they once did and can become "shut-ins" within their own mind and within their house. Your family becomes frustrated at the new demands of another family member that needs constant attention.
Although your relationship has been changed with your elderly loved one as you assume the role of caregiver, there are still way to connect in familiar ways. For instance, before my grandmother's health and mind began to deteriorate she loved playing cards with the family and won most of the time. Even in her last months of life, when her mind was feeble and incapable of remembering where to go to eat dinner; cards were still a constant and she still won sometimes. Playing cards helped to keep her mind active and enabled the family to feel the relationship was still familiar. My grandmother also loved dogs and kept one until her mental health could no longer keep up with the demands. She frequently asked about her dog and missed him. Just days before her death, my sister found some puppies and took one to my grandmother to hold for a while. The peace on her face as she held that puppy for hours was indescribable according to my sister. It was providing her with something familiar that she loved. In our current situation, My Father-in-Law loves word puzzles and can do them all day long. Even though he is unable to do a lot of things he once loved, he is able to continue doing the puzzles. I believe that finding something that is familiar and reminds you and your loved one of who they "used to be" is vital for everyone's emotions.
Care giving can be such a blessing though and through all that I have said, should not be interpreted as negative. Your family is drawn closer together in this time of crisis and your elderly loved one is secure in the fact that their needs and best interests are being taken care of by someone that they trust and love. This type of care and trust is just not possible through Assisted Living where they become just one of many and often times are overlooked unless the need is extreme. If you begin care giving when you have young children in the house, they learn the importance of family, loyalty and commitment. As my own family begins its care giving journey, we walk to it knowing that we are providing for those that provided for us and feel like its the least we can do to show our love and appreciation.