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Minding Our Elders: Parent care shouldn’t eclipse our own lives

DEAR CAROL: I've cared for my mom, who has a personality disorder, for most of my adult life. She eventually developed dementia, as well, so I took an early retirement.

DEAR CAROL: I’ve cared for my mom, who has a personality disorder, for most of my adult life. She eventually developed dementia, as well, so I took an early retirement.
Recently, we moved her into an assisted living memory care unit where trained staff can care for her around the clock. The staff and other resident’s family members tell me that Mom’s happy there. When I look at the general level of contentment of other residents I can’t help but think that she must be. However, when I visit, she cries and clings to me and tells me she hates it and I need to take her home.
I’m an artist and would like to get more involved in the art community before I’m too old to do so. How do I cope with Mom’s need for me and still make use of my talents and get some enjoyment out of life? – Pat
DEAR PAT: You’ve done far more than most adult children would or could have done, but that has become part of your problem. Your mom just assumes that you can fix everything. Since she cries and clings when you are around but is doing well otherwise, you’ll have to face her meltdowns with resolve.
Generally, I encourage frequent family visits and a lot of involvement. That being said, I found out personally that sometimes a missed day of visiting helped my loved ones become aware that they could get by without my being there every day. I also benefited from knowing that they could be fine without me.
We caregivers have to face the fact that our loved ones will decline no matter what we do. Sometimes the wisest thing we can do is to take care of ourselves. Look at it this way: If you have little or no time for your own needs and are constantly under too much stress, you risk becoming ill yourself. Then what would your mom do? Also – and this is important – your mom would feel horrible if she could understand that her excessive neediness is undermining your health and well-being.
Please take care of yourself without guilt. Take days off. Tell your mom that you will be there to visit but that she is safe and well taken care of. Talk with the staff and also with her doctor if that will help you move forward with a revised care plan. The social worker at the home may also be helpful. I believe that they will all agree that it’s fine for your mom, and probably necessary for your own wellbeing, for you to step back to some degree.
Have you attended any caregiver support groups? I realize that takes more time yet, but these groups can be very helpful for many caregivers. A lot of people also find online support helpful. The Alzheimer’s Association offers online support, as do www.healthcentral
.com/alzheimers and the forum on www.agingcare
.com, both of which I moderate. There are many others, as well. Support groups allow you to tell your story to people who understand your situation because they’ve lived through similar experiences. If you can’t cut back without too much guilt, I’d suggest seeing a counselor to shore up your resolve.
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 carolbursack@msn.com .

Related Topics: FAMILYHEALTH
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