Drained, guilt-ridden and angry: boomers endure the trauma and tumult of conflicting impulses as they become caregivers to aging parents

WOMEN’S HEALTH

One great challenge confronting caregivers is to give their elderly parents quality care without endangering their own health, well being and personal growth.

By Barbara Bowes

Caring for aging parents has upsides and downsides.

While there’s been much hue and cry over baby boomer retirements from the workplace over the past few years, there hasn’t been much said about the fact many baby boomers are right in the middle of a crunch known as the “sandwich generation”. In fact, in this past month alone, I’ve encountered at least three individuals who are betwixt and between looking after two sets of elderly and ailing parents.

Emotional paradox
I’ve been through this trauma myself…wanting to be of assistance to my mother while she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease but facing resistance because she was so fiercely independent. And to top it all off, my mother lived in another province while all of her children were firmly established in far off cities.

I travelled to visit my mother and conference with physicians in person and  by telephone as much as I could. I watched as caregivers wandered in and out of her apartment on an hourly basis preparing her prescriptions and looking after her needs. I stood near her feeling emotionally drained. I admit I felt a mix of guilt for not knowing how to help and not being there for her as well as anger because she refused to move to a care home nearer to me. There were lots of hidden tears let me tell you.

Yet, if you speak to a specialist in the field of aging, you’ll find my contradictory feelings, referred to as an “emotional paradox” are considered quite normal. In fact, these specialists suggest that within the realm of adult caregiving, there appears to be at least nine emotional experiences one might encounter. These are as follows:

Feeling sorry – this is an automatic thought and can quickly overcome the caregiver.
Heroic acts – while in the emotional moment, the caregiver might promise more than they can deliver over the long term.
Confusion – when best efforts don’t help, the caregiver might fall into self-depreciation and emotional turmoil.
Anger and resentment – focusing on “why is this happening to me” is common but can prevent clear thinking in planning for the loved one.
Depression – many caregivers feel stuck because they can’t resolve the issues and soon fall into personal depression.
Information seeking – once caregivers can see clearly, they will seek out assistance from the many groups available for help and advice.
Empathetic identification – caregivers will often seek out individuals in the same situation. This allows them to share experiences and regain some of their personal spirit.
Forgiveness of self – caregivers must move toward self forgiveness and stop berating themselves for not doing this or that.
Letting go – caregivers will eventually let go of their guilt and accept they have done their best. When they reach this stage, they will feel refreshed and alive again themselves.
The specialists also advise that one of the greatest challenges confronting caregivers is to give the best care possible to their elderly parent without endangering their own health, well being and personal growth. Here are some of their suggestions as well as a few from own experience.
Be information savvy – research your loved one’s health situation, both the current and the future. I found this helped me to understand next stages rather than being fearful of it and enabled me to work with physicians to plan ongoing assistance.
Focus on positive talk – even if you are engaging in caregiving duties, conversations and visits are more enjoyable when focused on positives rather than the disease.
Share your love – sometimes just personal touch, hand holding and a caress is all your loved one needs to know you are there and that you care.
Swallow your anger and focus on the good things – your parent might be cranky and demanding and that creates pressure. Hold your breath and focus on the good things and the positive relationship you have had through your life. It’s these memories that will last.
Rely on family and friends – it’s important to stay emotionally stable so that your work world doesn’t topple as well. If need be, take a leave of absence. Rely on family and friends for support. Park your worries for awhile.
Protect your physical well-being – just as with any other trauma, be sure to get a good night’s sleep and eat well. Keep up the physical exercise and focus on the future.

Caring for an aging parent can cause considerable strain on the babyboomer worker and this strain can take many twists and turns. Take time to examine your own thoughts and issues on aging, your emotions and your care-giving capabilities and develop your plan from there.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a human resources and talent management firm. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

One thought on “Drained, guilt-ridden and angry: boomers endure the trauma and tumult of conflicting impulses as they become caregivers to aging parents”

  1. Very good article Barbara, maybe as well it could be mentioned one can be information informed but with a very centred and in some cases uncaring medical system towards senior health and well-being the caregiver spends hours trying to find help . Dealing with the “top” people in these organizations can be an exercise in frustration and anxiety. Our medical system does seem to show definite bias and Ageism is noted at least in my case. Anyway thank you for a sensitive article with good tips.

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