When the Time Comes to Care for Our Parents. The Importance of Taking Time for Self-Care
By Jackie White
Something New from SoulShine! SoulShine is all about living your best life, however sometimes life can get in the way of living your best life. One thing we hear over and over is lack of time makes it difficult to live your best life. Things like responsibilities, children, spouses, bills, jobs, etc. can be difficult manage at times. We will explore some of these issues and will provide you ideas and support in managing through some of the curve balls life throws at us. Today we are addressing aging parents and self-care.
Jenny, a full time teacher, travels about an hour each way to visit her dad in the memory care facility. Thankfully, most days Fred recognizes Jenny. They play cards and talk about the past. Both of Leslie’s parents are suffering from Alzheimer’s and she is spends 10-15 hours per week caring for them while working and caring for her own family.
These are the stories of two women, but it’s the reality of many women. There is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to how women’s lives are affected by their aging parents. This unspoken issue for women impacts a woman’s life fairly significantly. The burden of caring for an aging or ailing parent usually falls upon the daughters of these parents. Of course, we don’t like the word “burden” because our parents are not a burden. Our parents have cared for us and we will do the same for them, but the fact remains that it can be a hardship that many of us are not physically or mentally prepared for.
The statistics also support the fact that care for ailing parents is many times a woman’s “problem”. Let’s get familiar with the facts and find ways to lift ourselves up in these tough times. It’s important.
If you have ever been part of these statistics, you will know that managing all of these responsibilities and stress is physically and mentally exhausting. Frankly, sometimes it’s about just trying to keep your head above water. It’s hard to manage all of this without something suffering. One week it might feel like you have missed out on spending time with your kids and another time it might feel like you haven’t seen your spouse in forever! Even family activities and vacations can be dictated by caring for an ailing parent. The goal is to learn ways not to lose yourself in the care management.
Jenny and Leslie are two women currently caring for their ailing parents. Specifically, their parents have memory-related illnesses. They have been generous to share their stories to help us best understand the challenges.
Jenny travels about an hour each way to visit her dad in the memory care facility. Jenny is lucky to have other family members and friends also visit her dad weekly. Fred is 84 years old and had been diagnosed with vascular dementia. This type of dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s in the person’s memory is permanently impaired and continues to decline. In Fred’s case his memory impairment is hereditary and in the past was referred to as senility or hardening of the arteries. Fred’s memory decline has been made worse by smoking for 64 years. Thankfully, most days Fred recognizes Jenny. Jenny says they play cards and talk about the past. His concept of time is often confused. He asks who Jenny’s mom was - his wife, and other days he will remember her and that sadly, she has passed away. His memory has him believing he is in his 50’s or 60’s and is always shocked to find out how old he really is. Every week though, he does ask Jenny when he can go home to the house he lived when he was growing up. It’s heartbreaking for Jenny to break the news to her dad over and over again that he is home.
Leslie has a similar story, but the pain is multiplied because both of her parents are suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her father, Cliff, is in early stages of Alzheimer’s and her mother, Alice, is in late-stages. Her dad doesn’t realize he has a memory issue and yet cannot understand why his wife Alice isn’t acting herself. Leslie and her sister care for their parents, each spending 10-15 hours per week with their mom and dad. Leslie recently found a care facility that could take both of her parents easing some of the burden. She still feels she needs to visit frequently to make sure her parents are being taken care of properly. Leslie has had to find a part-time job that unfortunately is an underpaid job, but it allows for time she needs for her parents and for her husband and son.
Since Leslie’s mom is in late-stage Alzheimer’s, Leslie has spent time just holding her mom’s hand and learning to cue into any possibly communication her mother may be trying to convey. Leslie feels she has grown to be more compassionate towards the challenges of aging. Leslie has chosen to focus on the positive and states “Every disease we face with people, we have so many beautiful opportunities to grow spiritually and individually as we sit beside those who are dying whether it’s a short process or a long one”.
Both Jenny and Leslie are trying to carry on with life, working jobs and caring for children and/or their spouse. The exhaustive nature of caring for an aging parent, especially one with declining mental capacity, is demanding. They have put things on hold in their lives to get through this stressful time. The one thing both of these women do to manage all of this is to keep a positive outlook and also give themselves some grace. They realize they can’t fix the situation, or that they can’t be there 24/7. They have to let any guilt go and know they are doing the best they can.
How to Care for Yourself
Care-takers who are simultaneously juggling many responsibilities are at risk of suffering from depression, anxiety, chronic illness and/or decline in quality of life. It’s important to be mindful not to lose yourself in the quagmire of emotions and exhaustion. Hear me now, it is critically important to keep yourself on the list. Did you hear that? You can’t let yourself get lost in all of this, rather you need to know it is not selfish to care for yourself. Here are some ways you can start caring for yourself:
1) Be mindful of how you are feeling. Many emotions will rush over you and it’s ok.
2) Journaling about your feelings can be helpful to understand why you are feeling a certain way.
3) Get a massage. It might feel indulgent, but it also may be necessary to work out over-tight stressed
4) Take an afternoon for yourself to do something you like to do. Read, walk, knit, dance - whatever!
5) Exercise your body. It will help with relieving stress and will keep your body from getting too stiff.
6) Pray. In tough times and times where your loved one may soon be moving on, it can be very helpful to pray
and find comfort and guidance.
7) Eat healthfully will keep your body fueled properly to manage long hours or stressful times.
8) Remember the good times. It’s important to recall memories of when your parent was not ill. Write these
memories in a journal.
9) Keep talking to your parent. It might feel that they don’t hear you, but your words will not go unheard.
10) Put yourself in a time out. Sometimes when you feel overwhelmed, you need to take time out. Take a bath,
take a nap or take a walk.
11) Cry. It’s ok to cry. Let it out and feel the release of stress.
12) Ask or seek out help. We all need help. It is not a sign of weakness or disloyalty to ask for assistance.
13) Take time to laugh and enjoy life. Things can get tough, but it doesn’t mean you need to wallow in it, in fact,
just the opposite is true. You need to continue to find joy in life.
14) Smile. This may sound silly, but if you smile, you will feel better.
15) Be grateful. This might be a hard one knowing what you are dealing with, but there is always something to
be grateful for and you need to recognize those things.
16) If you aren’t feeling well, take care of yourself. You can’t take care of others if you are sick.
17) Connect with friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself. Remember a friend is a great person to talk to and
get perspective, but don’t fixate conversations solely on your problems. Enjoy talking about other things
18) Focus on positive self-affirmations will help you keep you strong and feeling good about yourself.
19) Take a few minutes daily to meditate. Meditation can reduce stress, anxiety and help you be intentional
about your time.
20) Be proud of yourself for caring for your parent. It’s not an easy task, but can be rewarding.
Life can get difficult sometimes. We have to deal with challenging things that we don’t want to, but taking time for some self-care will allow you to not lose yourself. It will also help you to be strong for those you are caring for.
Listen to Kenny Chesney's "While He Still Knows Who I Am" on the link below.
Facts about Alzheimer’s and Memory Related Disease
The facts are that 5.3 million people aged 65 or older are suffering from Alzheimer’s and other memory related diseases. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. The pain of watching your parent disappear is almost unbearable, but not witnessing it is not an option.
For more information on Alzheimer’s go to www.alz.org For more information on being a caregiver www.caregiver.org. and for more life inspiration go to www.FindYourSoulShine.com
Know that even when dealing with life’s challenges you can still Shine On.
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Jackie White has been writing about life and its ups and downs for many years. With a degree in Industrial Psychology and a life-long student of personal development she is intrigued by how each individual chooses to live their life. Jackie feels strongly that truly living your best life is imperative to attaining peace and fulfillment. SoulShine was borne of her desire to inspire and teach others to live their best life. This is her mission and her dream.