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Bursack: Don't allow caregiving to take over your life

Dear Carol: Two years ago, my dad had a stroke. With a lot of help, he recovered quite well. About the time I thought I could get back to my normal life, which includes a wife and children, my mother had a heart attack. Mom is now OK, but they bo...

Dear Carol: Two years ago, my dad had a stroke. With a lot of help, he recovered quite well. About the time I thought I could get back to my normal life, which includes a wife and children, my mother had a heart attack. Mom is now OK, but they both have become very dependent on me.

I was happy to help when they needed me, but sometimes I resent the fact that my parents take up so much of my time. I've expected to help in emergencies, but this has become a chronic situation and I only see it getting worse. I really don't know what to do. - Ted

Dear Ted: Caregiving has a way of sneaking up on people. Often, it starts out with an emergency like your dad's stroke or your mom's heart attack. But, since aging folks generally have at least some health issues, the small things multiply, too. Pretty soon, the occasional caregiver finds he or she has taken on a full-time job.

Over the span of two decades I cared for a total of seven elders. Much of that time, there were five elders who needed me and it was often overwhelming. I slowly learned that I needed to fulfill their needs however I could, and that often meant the help of professionals. I did my best to take care of their wants, as well. But to do so totally would have wiped me out as a person (and as a mother).

Ted, you should start now by figuring out what your parents' real needs are. Your parents sound like they are in a situation where some in-home help may be appropriate. They must learn that others can provide help, as you need to work and be with your family. In their hearts they don't want to devour your time. But, as their aging ills multiply, they are afraid, so they cling to you. You'll help everyone by getting a handle on this sooner rather than later.

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Start now to put in place a program to lessen their dependence on you. Perhaps this is a time to talk about a move to assisted living. Let them know you'll always be there for them, and you will be their advocate. Visit often and help them through any transitions and major setbacks. But help them look at various options before you feel trapped. You'll be a better caregiver if you do, and they will, once they adjust, feel better if they know they don't dominate your life.

Bursack is the author of "Minding Our Elders," a support book on family elder care, and maintains a Web site at www.mindingourelders.com . To view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at carol@mindingourelders.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107

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