My caregiver journey started in high school when my dad was hospitalized for a hernia that caused him to stop working and pretty much function on a regular basis for months before his hospitalization. I don’t remember how long he stayed, but it was for a good majority of my senior year — one of the most pivotal years of most people’s young adult lives.
Becoming a Caregiver
At one point before a major surgery was done for him, he asked that, when the time came, my sister and I be his caregivers. At the time I didn’t really understand what it meant, but I did know I just wanted to help my dad so I said yes.
That year while I was applying for scholarships and receiving early acceptance letters from colleges, I was also constantly thinking of the fact that my dad was not well. I was simultaneously thinking about my future and my parents’ well-being.
As time went on, he eventually had other health complications that are still affecting him today. During my senior year of college, my mom suffered two bleeding strokes within just two weeks of each other. Thankfully, she regained most of her regular functioning back, with the exception of her ability to properly speak and understand people at times.
By the time of my college graduation, when I was just 22 years old, I had two elderly parents that were dealing with permanent and chronic health conditions. I began to realize the roles of parent and child within my family were starting to reverse. I had to come up with a course of action to care for these now fragile individuals who once seemed to have all the answers when taking care of me and my sister.
Within the past two years of being a more active caregiver, especially during a global pandemic, I have been learning to navigate my life with this role. It hasn’t been easy, but definitely manageable with my sister by my side and with some family, community, and internet resources that I’ve come across. In no particular order, here are some things I’ve learned.
I cannot do it all.
There’s absolutely no way that you can provide care for someone all by yourself, all of the time, without having some lasting effects on your personal life. Caregiving can affect your personal and work-life more than you anticipated which can be hard to recover from sometimes. Consider reaching out to family, close friends, and research on some community resources that can help you care for aging parents.
A community resource I recently tapped into was a driving service that serves elderly people in my county and takes them to doctor’s appointments. This helps me not have to constantly be taking half days and sometimes full days off of work, causing me to catch up on the work that I’ve missed.
Start planning early, if possible.
Ask your parents if they have a plan of action for when the time comes when they will start to require more care:
- Do they want a home nurse?
- Would they prefer a family member to care for them?
- Does this family member fully understand their expectations for care?
- Do they have any interest in living in an assisted living facility?
More importantly, you’ll also need to assess if what they want is financially feasible for everyone involved. Just like child care, expenses for elder care are equally as costly. My sister and I recently opened a joint bank account solely dedicated to expenses related to our parents. We’re still figuring things out as we go. But as a planner in my personal life of almost everything, things are oftentimes much easier to deal with when you have a plan as opposed to when you don’t.
Consider obtaining legal documentation for certain circumstances.
There are some legal documents that you may want to consider researching as a caregiver. Two major ones are a Power of Attorney (POA) document and an Advance Directive. A Power of Attorney is legal authorization for a designated person to make decisions about another person’s property, finances, or medical care.
There are different versions of these by state, and POAs are a more broad document than an advance directive that specifies what actions should be taken for a person’s health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity. In conversations with your parents, and possibly consulting someone in the legal field, you can determine which one is best for you.
Set boundaries to take care of yourself.
Did you know that in some states people are required to take care of their elderly parents? You read that right—in almost half of the states across the US, filial responsibility laws are enacted where, if you are able, you will more than likely be responsible for your elderly parents. Knowing this, please understand that it is very difficult taking care of other people when you’re neglecting yourself. Doing simple things like bathing regularly, cleaning your living spaces, and buying yourself groceries can help you maintain your sense of self.
Especially being that I’m still so young, I make sure to set aside time to hang around people my age whenever I can. As much as I love my parents, this caregiver has gotta have a life too!
Taking on this role has been anything but easy, but I’m thankful that I’ve been able to learn as I go and have had some help along the way. In addition to the points I’ve shared above, I’ve listed additional resources that I hope can help others with their caregiver journey. You don’t, and shouldn’t, have to do it alone.
Resources for Caregivers:
- Finding a Foothold podcast on Spotify. This podcast is hosted by an occupational therapist who provides advice to caregivers when they need it most.
- Empowerline lists resources for caregivers specifically in the Metro Atlanta area.
- National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled’s Resources for Senior Citizens and Their Families. This website lists resources for caregivers of elders and others with disabilities.