Taking care of an aging parent can be a rewarding, joyful experience, as well as a trying, stressful one. It helps to remember mixed feelings are normal. Caregiving often comes at either our busiest time of life, or at a time of life when we thought we would have more freedom, and instead end up with more responsibility. Further, old issues with a parent may arise, because of the need for more involvement.
Several strategies for caretaking can ensure that it goes well. First, having a positive attitude helps. Viewing caretaking as an opportunity for personal growth helps the process. In addition, it helps to view caretaking as a natural biological transition between you and your parent that gradually takes place over time. This point of view ensures your own maturation. It also builds in respect to the elder. The traditional view of caretaking as a role reversal in which the parent becomes a child and you become the parent conveys disrespect to the parent.
It is also helpful to view caretaking as a way to give back all the care you were given while growing up. If, sadly, your relationship with your parents was characterized by parental failure it will be important to evaluate how much you have to give and your individual vulnerabilities, as well as the possible repercussions to yourself. Finding the balance for being able to give as much as you can without too much expense to yourself is desirable. In some cases it may not be possible to care for an aging parent.
Another important strategy for caretaking is to understand as much as possible about what your parent is experiencing. He may have unfocused anger, depression, and anxiety related to his increased dependency and many losses. Some practical strategies to help your parent with what he is experiencing include helping your parent have as much control as possible. Another is to plan ahead with your parent. Further, it is helpful to divide the caretaking responsibilities into roles that involve other family members. For example, someone in the family may assume the role of communicating with doctors; someone may handle financial matters; and someone may find community resources. Another important area is remembering to express feelings of affection, especially through touching. Try to find meaningful activities, such as looking at a photo album, or making a tape of the family history. Other activities could be listening to a favorite radio, or television show together, looking through mail order catalogs, attending musical events, going for a drive, or giving back rubs.
The final strategy for caretaking is learning to build in self-care. Learning when to set limits, and protect your time and energy is important. Not allowing yourself to become too tired is essential. Spend some time for yourself in activities that have therapeutic value, such as visiting a museum, or listening to music. Spending time gardening, or out of doors in nature are also other ideas for recharging. This is also a time when you may want to deepen your own religious or spiritual beliefs and connections.