In a story on health.usnews.com titled "Caregivers Face Multiple Strains Tending Older Parents," a study was examined that showed "middle-aged adults who regularly help their elderly parents get by experience a drop in health and well-being in their own lives..." The study is reported in an edition of the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences earlier this year.
The research team studied diaries of adult caregivers, and the diaries showed that, "... accumulation of small and large daily stressors such as work deadlines, PTA meetings, supporting family and friends as well as providing routine assistance to a parent living outside one's house can build up," study leader Jyoti Savla, assistant professor of human development and gerontology at Virginia Tech, said in a university news release."
I doubt that any of you readers are gasping with surprise at this news flash. Most of us know that caregiving is a 24/7 job, whether the care receiver lives with you or in another home. If you are the responsible person, the elder is always hovering somewhere in your mental sphere.
What I found interesting about this particular study is that it showed that those who believed in, "personal growth, mastery and self-acceptance experienced fewer negative consequences from helping their parents."
Accepting the fact that our parents need our help is emotionally draining for many of us. Accepting the fact that our life plans are taking a dramatic turn from what we'd planned can also be emotionally draining. Even those of us who have a close, loving relationship with our parents often find ourselves exhausted with the demands of caregiving when it's added to an already crunched schedule of children, jobs and extra activities.
I was a sandwich generation caregiver before the term was coined. I never skipped a beat when my elders started needed help. It was just something that needed to be done, and I wanted to help them. I also had two children, one with chronic health issues. I never stopped to think, "Gee, I shouldn't be taking on this extra person's needs.
I think this is true of most caregivers. It's there to do, so we do it. The idea that we start early recognizing that this is another job, and start early on with making plans for help, is fodder for another post. The idea of attitude is what I want to focus on here.
I know, personally, that if I accept something as it is - not whether or not I like it, but as it is - I can generally handle the situation better. That's easiest to do when that "something" is short-lived. In the case of caregiving for an elder, the first few episodes may well be temporary. So, just accepting the situation and doing what needs to be done works pretty well.
However, caregiving often sneaks up on us, one grocery shopping trip at a time, one lawn mowing at a time, one medical appointment at a time. Our total emersion into being a caregiver on top of all of our other duties is often so gradual we barely notice until we are suddenly overwhelmed.
Then, accepting the situation as it is becomes just a first step. From there we will have to choose our attitude. We can be resentful. That is normal. In fact most of us will have resentful times. We can - and likely will - have all kinds of negative emotions, along with the love and concern and worry that goes with watching someone we love suffer through declines inherent in the aging process.
However, in the end, our attitude may have a lot to do with how our own health holds up. We can experience and work through the negative emotions, and then move on, if we choose. We can move on to accepting aging and death as part of the life cycle. And we can learn that much of what we are doing for our elders is also part of our own growth process. We can learn from this part of the journey as we travel the road. We can learn from other caregivers. We can learn from professionals.
Yes, we can delegate responsibility. We can hire help. We can teach our teenagers that they must share their time with ailing grandparents. If we have some faith in the process of life, and the growth that living through tough times can provide, we may find that our own health is better off, than if we fight it all the way.
Some call that going with the flow. Call it what you will. I do think there is validity in this study. Acceptance of life as it is and looking for the opportunity for growth during tough times, may be the best thing we, as caregivers, can do for our own health.
Published On: October 16, 2008