Taking Care of Your Parents: 3 Steps To Cope with New Caregiving Responsibilities

Posted July 25, 2014

Whether you’ve had a chance to plan for the new role or not, here are 3 steps to take when you’re faced with new caregiving responsibilities.

1. Assess your loved one’s current state relative to your own bandwidth.

Before we can do much else, it’s critical to take the time to make a realistic assessment of what we can offer a loved one—whether it is with day-to-day tasks, financial issues, or in providing another form of support. This process relies heavily on an evaluation of what our loved one’s needs are, and although not easy to predict, how those needs may change in the future.

“At first, a caretaker may only have a limited awareness of what the recipients true needs are in any given situation,” explains Dr. Ivan Wolfson, a licensed clinical psychologist with nearly two decades of experience and expertise in helping caregivers as they tackle an entirely new role in their lives.

“[Someone’s] care-taking needs must be assessed on an individual basis as their level of need will vary from person to person. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the caregiver to thoroughly assess each area of functioning, including cognitive, emotional, physical and medical levels of ability versus limitation, in effort to know how to best intervene and assist,” he says.

Depending on the situation, our loved ones may or may not be able to articulate what level of support or what specific needs they truly have. It is up to us as caregivers to discern this information.

2. Refocus and self-educate to best serve your loved ones.

Once expectations and known limitations are accounted for, it’s time to take advantage of available resources in order to get as much knowledge as possible about your new role. “It is our responsibility to become informed,” adds Dr. Wolfson.

From physical- to the mental-health related tasks, becoming more knowledgeable helps caregivers avoid stress, stay healthier, and even work more efficiently. It is also helpful to enhance coping strategies and create a support system in effort to promote increased health and overall well-being for oneself.

“Part of the initial process involves educating yourself, as a caregiver, with regard to the full extent of what will be needed in effort to provide the best care possible to the person for whom he/she is responsible,” explains Dr. Wolfson.

For example, this process can include speaking with a loved one’s pharmacist, physician, or any other integral member in their “medical neighborhood.” This way, caregivers can be sure a loved one is getting the best utilization as possible out of these key care team members.

This kind of education and information-backed support is just what a senior needs when it comes to their daily habits. With medication, for example, many times seniors have questions or concerns at the time they go to take their medication. With a solution such as MedaCheck to support both caregiver and caregivee, we see how a senior is able to continue to self-manage their health with greater confidence.

3. Identify relevant family dynamics and seek to remove any chance of added stress for loved ones.

In order for a caregiver to emotionally, as well as physically, be her healthiest, she must be prepared and willing to solve family conflict if it arises. In many cases, taking care of our parents can bring us together, or it can result in increased conflict between siblings.

The person we are caring for can be affected by family conflict by increased anxiety, or tension due to the family dysfunction around them. “The last thing a person needs is to have to deal with someone else who is overwhelmed,” points out Dr. Wolfson, suggesting we must know our own limitations—even in terms of dealing with sibling dynamics in which old rivalries or issues seem to resurface.

We cannot neglect our own health in the process of taking care of someone else’s health.

As time goes on, even our own age must be taken into consideration as we plan to and cope with being a caregiver. “Caregivers may need to identify and address the issues they have pertaining to their own—as well as that of another’s—age-related decline, and even [someone’s] imminent passing. In this way, they can substantially reduce the extent to which their own fear and/or unresolved issues interfere with the level of care they provide to their parents or other people for whom they have been entrusted to care,” says Dr. Wolfson.

Providing support for loved ones is a complex endeavor, but there are ways to cope and to be proactive on an ongoing basis.

Start with a realistic assessment of both you and the state of your parent(s), continually self-educate on your journey, and work to avoid adding any tension or anxiety to our loved ones’ lives.

Dr. Ivan Wolfson is a licensed clinical psychologist with nearly two decades of experience helping people work through personal and clinical issues. Dr. Wolfson hosts his own radio show and has been a frequent contributor to The Carol Roth Show on WGN in Chicago, Illinois. An adjunct Professor at DePaul University, Dr. Ivan Wolfson has earned both his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology from Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Wolfson specializes in treating adjustment related issues, relationship problems, and issues pertaining to self-esteem/purpose in life in the adult and older adult populations.

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