“People who are considering care-giving often make one primary mistake, they do not look forward enough in the process. What today is considered as minor aid can quickly escalate into constant, twenty-four hour a day care.” —Dr. Christopher A. Foetisch, orthopedic surgeon
When forty-nine-year-old Renee lost her job earlier in the year, she was stunned. Immediately, she began sending out resumes. Getting a job became her job. For seven months, she landed only a few interviews despite her advanced degree and experience. Renee wondered if she’d lose her home, her credit rating, and savings in one fell swoop. Then Renee’s mom called and her fretting took an entirely different turn.
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Several years earlier, Renee had answered the call to move in and care for with her ailing and then increasingly frail eighty-year-old mother. That arrangement lasted about nine months. No sooner had Renee agreed to sell her home and join households to care for her mother, than her mom changed her mind. Renee’s mother decided she didn’t want anyone living with her even though she needed outside assistance. Renee tried to reason with her elderly parent, tried accommodating her in every way possible, because Renee knew it was only a matter of time before her mom’s health would deteriorate to a point where it would be dangerous for her to live alone. So after much discussion that had led nowhere, Renee moved into an apartment and eventually purchased another home for her and her children.
Life went on pretty smoothly with Renee transporting her mom to appointments, doing her shopping for her, and making certain her mother’s home was well maintained. Renee wondered if perhaps her mom might actually realize her wish to stay in her home until she passed away. Renee herself certainly preferred living in her own home.
Then Renee lost her job. Suddenly, her mother decided the perfect solution was for Renee to move back in with her again. Things would be different this time, her mom promised. I’ve changed, she told Renee. Renee wasn’t so sure; then again with the housing and job market so shaky, this might be the their best option.
Having recalled the strain of living with her mom caused Renee to think proactively on both small and large matters. She also recognized that even though her mom was giving lip service to wanting Renee back to care for her, her mom was infinitely fickle and today’s enthusiasm could very well die a sudden death once Renee settled in and the routine of daily life took over. Minute issues as how to tie the garbage bag properly or how to load the dishwasher were just a couple of irritants that had so upset Renee’s mom the first time around.
Weighing the pros and cons carefully, Renee decided to take pen to paper and begin listing areas were problematic for her mom as well as any differences in living arrangements that had caused upset for her aging mom. While making such a list was semi-depressing, Renee knew it was necessary. Once she got started, fresh questions and concerns arose too. Renee realized her mom was far less physically able to move and live safely than a few years earlier and with this deterioration, how would it affect her ability to go to work each day?
Certainly Renee had questions to get answered and challenges to overcome, but she also had the wisdom of hindsight and a clearer understanding of what it meant to enter someone else’s home (even at their request) and merge two households. It wouldn’t be easy; care taking is never that. But Renee’s goal wasn’t ease or comfort…it was taking care of someone close to her. It was a living out of that principle; treat others in the way you would want to be treated. Easy to accomplish? Rarely. Right to do. Always.
The three aspects of care giving
* Realize the parent you once knew and loved might be gone forever and be willing to grieve the loss of that relationship even while a parent is still alive.
* Be prepared to take control of important decision-making regarding all aspects of care even when met with some resistance by the person in need.
* Make peace with the fact that not all extended family members will step-up to assist in the way you might want and expect.
* Before you enter into a care-giving situation enlist the support of friends and family who will commit to pray for you and those under your care.
* Learn how to share your faith and life perspectives without receiving the appropriate responses back from the person you are caring for.
* Be ready to journey along with your patient as they face their mortality and be prepared to listen and respond to their concerns.
* Take good personal care of yourself as the primary caregiver by eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising daily.
* Make use of professional care-giving agencies that can offer practical assistance with hygiene, dressing, and meal support.
* Understand your personal limits before you reach them by scheduling away time regularly to recharge yourself mentally and physically.
Sidebar: Care-giving from a physician’s perspective.
Dr. Christopher A. Foetisch, orthopedic surgeon, Toledo, OH, offers the following observations from both a clinician’s standpoint and having served as a caregiver personally.
* Providing care for a sick individual almost always requires more time and resources than most people realize.
* Realize that the level of care can quickly change from minor to constant 24/7-hour care.
* Caregivers need to ask themselves if they are “mentally tough enough” to help with bathing, bathroom, medications and possibly dressing changes or tubes and IV lines.
* Before an individual becomes overwhelmed, decide ahead of time when the need for another arrangement will be required such as transfer to a nursing home or hospice facility.
* Plan for unexpected expenses to arise from a variety of sources.
* When caregivers begin feeling frustrated, anxious, or depressed note these as warning signs that the situation must be promptly addressed and responsibilities reduced.
* No one individual should assume the caregiver role without some form of backup, even for a short period of time.
Pittsburgh Healthcare Report, an online consumer health publication, is a journalistic enterprise launched in the fall of 2011 with support from our parent publication, Western Pennsylvania Healthcare News. We were the first digital publication in the Pittsburgh region dedicated to covering healthcare exclusively.