DEAR CAROL: A year ago, my mother had a heart attack. She came out of it fairly well, but still can't do much around the house. Then, last month my dad had a stroke. I'm an only child and feel overwhelmed with all of this. Before his stroke, Dad could take care of Mom and the house. He's now in rehab and even with therapy the specialists don't think he'll walk again. I'm married and have two children and a job. I guess I just feel overwhelmed. How do I go about getting our lives in order so I can help my parents and still care for my family and work? - Janet
DEAR JANET: It's no wonder you feel overwhelmed. When our parents need help, we generally want to dive in and do all we can. You also have a family and a job. There is only so much you can do, so you'll probably need to start arranging for some paid assistance. If you can afford a geriatric care manager, that would be a terrific first step because this person could help you plan and delegate. However, good care managers are expensive. If that's not an option, you'll have to find resources on your own.
One good resource is located on your state's website. It's a federal resource called the National Family Caregiver Support Program, though some states use a different title for the same program. If you simply type "aging" into your state website, you should get a list of links that can guide you.
Also, if you have an Agency on Aging in your community, they can be a wonderful source of information. You can go online to www.n4a.org and type in the Zip code of your community to see if you're covered locally. The National Institute on Aging offers many resources with local links and can be found at www.nia.nih.gov, as does the Administration on Aging found at www.aoa.gov.
Your mom is likely stressed by your dad's situation. Also, she's used to receiving his care. I'd suggest that you hire some help for her from an in-home care agency for awhile as you evaluate how she is getting along. In-home care is very flexible, so you can adjust the hours to her needs.
It's possible that your dad will continue to need around-the-clock care. If so, you'll likely have to consider 24-hour in-home care or a nursing home for him since your mom will not be able to provide the care he needs.
Talk with your dad's doctor about his prognosis, watch his recovery closely, help your mom all you can, but open "what if" discussions so that you can lay out contingency plans for their care. Don't berate yourself for not being able to provide heavy duty care by yourself. There's only so much any one person can do.
Remember that doing your best doesn't mean everyone will love the available choices, Janet. That's something you will have to live with. We often have to do what we can to move forward and then learn to accept less than perfect solutions.