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Tips for dealing with guilt and aging parents

Terry is a full-time mom and health, wellness and environmental writer.

Learning to switch roles

From SheKnows Canada
We prefer to see our parents as happy, strong and independent individuals. For instance, you never thought you'd reach that point when you'd actually consider a nursing home as primary care for a loved one. It's devastating. Your own health starts to decline, and the family starts to fall apart as you become the primary caregiver of your mom or dad. Care and needs continue to mount and, unfortunately, you know it's time to explore new strategies.

Woman caring for aging parents

Care alternatives

Can't bear the thought of placing your parent in a nursing home? Adult day care provides social interaction and meals to seniors who need supervised structure during the day. Personal support workers (PSWs) also provide full-time, part-time or even live-in assistance for those who need help with day-to-day chores and personal care. According to Career Bear, the goal of a PSW is to maintain the independence, dignity and privacy of their clients for as long as possible. Inviting Mom or Dad to move into your home is a solution, but only if you are truly able to meet their needs. If your parent is ill or incapacitated, a skilled nursing facility might be the best way to keep them safe and healthy.

The guilt

It doesn't take much to spur guilt. The inability to control a parent's aging process can create the onset of guilt. No one wants to see loved ones in pain or suffering from dementia. It's not unusual for the elderly to react with anger as they lose independence or face serious health challenges. Anger can trigger feelings of guilt in adult children and stress the less desirable aspects of a parent-child relationship. You start to question your judgment and worry you might be an inadequate caregiver or an uncaring, selfish child. And if it does become necessary to place your parent in a care facility, the pressure can feel overwhelming.

Handling your emotions

No single solution for handling negative emotions will work for every person. It's impossible to deny or cure them forever, but you can work toward reducing their effects on your health and life.

Counsellor Lynne Coon (Caring for Aging Parents) suggests taking a three-pronged approach — starting with a conversation. Share your concerns in an "I feel" or "I worry" style. Parents are less likely to be defensive and will really listen to what you're saying. The second step is to ask your parents for ideas about how to handle the challenges they face. Undoubtedly they're also worried about their future. Finally, be willing to find a compromise. If you think your parent should move in with you, but they want to stay in their own home, hiring a part-time care provider for assistance in their home is a compromise that helps them maintain their independence.

Other tips for managing difficult feelings:

  • Self-care. It is necessary to put yourself first sometimes. Proper rest, healthy food and exercise are basic needs for every person. If caring for a parent is causing you to burn the candle at both ends, it might be time to ask for help and to accept support.
  • Be realistic. If your parent is seriously impaired by an illness and cannot safely care for themselves, you might not be qualified to care for them either. Placing them in a skilled nursing facility or hiring a professional aide might be the most responsible thing you can do.
  • Don't expect praise or thanks from your parent. They might feel incredibly grateful, but the illness or their own feelings of guilt and inadequacy might make it too difficult to express their feelings. Take pride in knowing you're doing the best you can for your mom or dad.

Watching parents age and give up their independence is a difficult process, but you're not alone. If you're feeling isolated, depressed or overwhelmed as a caregiver, find a support group in your area, or at least talk with a compassionate friend. Everyone who has cared for an elderly parent has experienced similar feelings and challenges, and sharing your frustrations just might help someone else cope with theirs more easily.

More on aging

4 Books on aging gracefully
Coping with aging parents
Preventing osteoporosis: What you can do

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