Many parents are facing a new challenge today. Not only are they raising their children, but now they are also providing primary care for their aging parents as well. They are feeling sandwiched between their children and their aging parents. Welcome to the “Sandwich Generation”! While the challenges can be great, the rewards can be even greater! I had a chance to discuss this topic with a friend of mine, Kerry Burnight, who is an expert in the field of geriatrics. I learned a lot from our discussion, so let me pass along some tips with you about the concept of caregiving with compassion.
1. Recognize that changes in the aging brain brings improvement in some key life areas. Dr. Burnight explained that these brain changes bring about a great period of enhanced creativity, problem-solving, spirituality, and even humor. For many, there is a reduction in the sense of ego as they age, which allows an opportunity to draw closer to loved ones and God. So, while the ability to “have” and “do” declines as people grow older, generally, their sense of “being” is enlarged.
2. Choose not to feel guilty. Guilt is often a common feeling for caregivers. They can feel guilty about what they are doing or not doing. Or, they can even feel guilty about not feeling guilty. The reality, however, is that there is no perfect caregiver. With caregiving, you cannot do everything. You can’t even expect to do what you are doing “just right.” If you are providing care out of love for your parent, whatever you are doing is good. Guilt is a choice. Be proactive in choosing not to feel guilty.
3. Avoid common mistakes.
A. Taking parents to many different physicians. These doctors prescribe their own prescriptions which begin to add up and in the end, aging parents can suffer as the side effects of all of the medications become worse than the ailments themselves. So, even if many doctors are required, be sure there is one physician who is managing all medications.
B. Feeling that this season of life will last forever. The demands of balancing work requirements, raising kids, and providing care for parents can seem overwhelming and result in feelings that this is the way your life will be forever. This can interfere with the ability to appreciate and savor the time left to spend with aging parents. So, do your best not to see caring for parents as just another chore to check off of your “to-do” list and begin to relish the opportunities to interact with your parents.
4. Have a discussion with your aging parents about dying. While this likely won’t be an easy conversation, Dr. Burnight insists that it can be one of the most important discussions you can have with an aging parent. Respectfully, begin a dialogue with your parent about how they feel about the issue of dying, how they feel about hospice care, what they might desire in the way of a memorial service after they’ve died.
Caring for Aging Loved Ones – Focus on the Family Physicians Resource
American Medical Association Guide to Home Caregiving; Angela Perry, editor
Compassionate Caregiving: Practical Help and Spiritual Encouragement; Lois D. Knutson
Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents: What Care Receivers Want; Cheryl A. Kuba
Managing Stress When Caregiving
The Greatest Danger to Many Elders
Caring for Ill or Aging Parents
When Family Members Adjust to Their New Roles
National Family Caregivers Association