The Emotional Journey

Posted in Uncategorized on January 19th, 2010 | 12,771 Comments

The warning signs start small. Your loved one cooks meat on the stove that is still wrapped in cellophane, their car has several new dents and scratches or they frequently misplace their house keys. Whatever the specifics, oddities in behavior usually are indicators of your loved one’s growing inability to take care of themselves. Eventually the problem must be addressed and care options decided upon. Whether they receive in-home care or are placed under the supervision of professionals in an assisted living facility, it is the beginning of a complex emotional journey. These emotions affect everyone in the elder’s life, but are most acute for the family member who is most active in the caregiving process. Being able to recognize the emotions that may surface will help to move past any negativity and will ensure a comfortable and pleasant environment for your loved one.

As a child of the person undergoing care it can be particularly difficult to witness them loose their abilities. Someone who used to be so strong and able now has become feeble and requires the assistance of others to get through day-to-day life. Here is a short list of common negative feelings associated with the ‘role reversal’ that occurs when a child becomes the caregiver of a parent:

  • Stress
  • Isolation
  • Anger
  • Emberassment
  • Helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Grief
  • Depression

Stress can occur because the future is uncertain. Some people find they need to quit their job in order to give proper care, which results in loss of income and possible missed job opportunities, such as a promotion. If the family member turned caregiver has a situation where caregiving becomes too difficult (IE: If they have small children to provide for) then it should be considered whether an assisted living facility or nursing home is a better option.

Caring for someone with a debilitating illness can become a full time job, and people may find that their help becomes routine in the eyes of the elder. This leads to feelings of isolation and makes the caregiver feel unappreciated and trapped in their new set of responsibilities. This in turn can lead to feelings of anger. Perhaps the caregiver feels mad that this situation was thrust upon them, that family members don’t visit nearly as often as they should or that doctors seem incompetent.

They may experience guilt for many reasons: for considering putting the elder in a nursing home, making decisions for someone else, loosing their temper with the elder, etc. If the caregiver must take away the car keys they may feel this robs the elder of their independence. They may also feel guilty about their emberassment when taking their loved one out in public to a restaurant or community event.

Depression, Helplessness and Grief rear their ugly heads and cause a person to feel listless and apathetic. Of course, any of the feelings and emotions listed here will affect the treatment of the elder in a negative way. It should be decided if this task may be too much for the family member, and if so, a professional should step in to take over for at least a portion of the responsibilities.

Remember that the elder is experiencing emotions as well. The way they used to live has shifted drastically and this could leave them with low self-esteem or a sense of lost dignity. The caregiver should try to be as friendly and happy as possible in order to make the elder feel better about their condition. The caregiver’s mood affects the person they are caring for drastically, so they should not be mired in bad or negative feelings.

There are many steps one can take to combat the emotions mentioned above. Taking some time away from the elder is beneficial and can relieve stress. This could mean anything from spending some time with friends, excersising, attending support groups or talking with doctors, priests, psychiatrists or anyone that can help with these negative feelings.

In short, maintain a sense of humor and lightness and instill these feelings in your elder. Getting plenty or rest and maintaining one’s own health (mental and physical) will ensure that your elder can receive the care they need and still maintain their dignity.

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