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Published February 27, 2011, 12:00 AM

Bursack: Caregiver roles create some stress

Dear Carol: My 88-year-old father lives with my teenage son and me. My son has some responsibilities regarding his grandfather, who has dementia, and this is causing problems between us.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

Dear Carol: My 88-year-old father lives with my teenage son and me.

My son has some responsibilities regarding his grandfather, who has dementia, and this is causing problems between us.

I feel torn between the two. Any advice? – Teen’s Mom

Dear Teen’s Mom: Making choices between the needs of our children and the needs of our aging relatives is painful and often confusing for most of us who have needed to do this. You have a more difficult situation than many, since you are single, and your dad lives with you and your teenage son.

Please remember that your son has the same needs as any teenager. While it’s good for children to learn to help aging grandparents and other elders, there are limits. Teenagers, even under the easiest conditions, often struggle with conflicting emotions, especially those regarding their need for increasing independence. Your son’s portion of responsibility for his grandfather may be more than he can emotionally handle.

While you, no doubt, find the changing needs of your dad very hard to watch, it’s also hard for your son to see his grandfather change. Because of your son’s age, he is less equipped emotionally to handle the distressing effects Alzheimer’s can bring, particularly if there are marked personality differences with his grandfather. Try to remember that your son is watching his grandfather deteriorate, plus getting less attention from you, his stressed-out mom. He’s facing a double loss, as teens still need a great deal of parental attention.

You are trying to juggle more than could realistically be expected of anyone. I’d suggest some counseling for you and your son, preferably joint counseling. I know taking that time sounds impossible. It would have sounded that way to me when I was deep into caregiving. However, a spiritual leader’s advice or a few hours of paid therapy just to clear the air could help.

Do try to recognize that your son’s future could be affected greatly by this situation, so if you need help with your dad so you can spend more time with your son, then please try to do it. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program offers Senior Companions in many areas, and this help is free. Some churches offer elder “sitters.” Paid in-home care is an option, of course. Try to find some help for your dad’s care, even if that means that he must move to assisted living. Your dad needs you, but your son has a life ahead of him, and his needs are also important.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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