For Love Or Money: Caring For The Elderly
Caring for the elderly is one of the biggest challenges that anyone may have to face. I have done it for pay and I have done it for love, and I can say that the amount that you get paid is not near enough compensation for the high stress, level of difficulty, or the bad press that caretakers often receive. There are many different reasons why an elderly person may need specialized care. It can be that they are no longer physically able to care for themselves or it can be that their mental facilities have deteriorated to the point that is no longer safe for them to be alone. Some older people only need help a few hours a week for difficult chores or companionship, while other need around the clock care. If you have a live in job, the stress level can be extraordinary. Not only are you trying to provide excellent care for your charge, you also may have to deal with family members. Some can be an asset, while others are, quite frankly, a pain in the neck. I have worked in a geriatric unit of a state facility and I have worked in private homes. Currently, I have now living in my parents home, trying to provide both of them with care with very little resources.
State Facilities And Private Care
When I worked in a state facility, there were many specialized units from child to elderly adult. I floated, which meant that I worked everywhere. Back then, I had just graduated with my psychology degree and I was eager for experience. My elderly friends were happy to oblige. I had a few people that chose me to be their special friend, (this is not uncommon) and I learned as much from them as from my classes. Many were there because they had no one else to care for them and due to dementia, senility, or other mental deficiencies, they were unable to care for themselves. The facility that I worked in had many dedicated people on staff, and the patients received excellent care. The support system in place kept the stress level down and provided a level of insulation from the patient's family members, allowing us to provide better care, while someone else dealt with the family's concerns.
Working in the private sector can be lucrative, but it comes with it's own special set of problems. For one, you are usually the only one caring for your charge and everything falls on you. If you are a 24 hour caretaker, you must have responsible help in case you need to leave the premises or you must take your charge wherever you go, if they are ambulatory. I remember when Hurricane Floyd came through we had one non-ambulatory patient that we had to take with us out of town. We fixed up a bed in the back of a van and drove her right out with us. If your patient is ambulatory, but suffers from dementia, it can be interesting to take him on an outing. It is good to have a sense of humor, because some of them will say or do anything! One older woman I cared for was constantly asking people to marry her. In addition, the family members of your patient can be difficult, often treating you as an employee of their's rather than as an independent contractor, providing a service, which is what you are.
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Caring For Your Elderly Loved Ones
I am at an age when my parents are not as well as they used to be and, as a result, they are in need of care. This can be an especially difficult undertaking. I come from a traditional Italian family and in the best of times, my parents are challenging. It becomes a balancing act; trying to do the right thing and take care of them and try to keep my independence and have my own life. Currently, I am living with them in their home and have been for a little over a year. This can be a workable situation depending on the family dynamic, but in my case, it is not. I have decided that I can be of more help to them in a supportive role, rather than as a primary caretaker. So, within the next year, I plan on moving out.
My experience this past year is one of stress and frustration. Because I am their child, they still see me that way and, thus, I have become a hindrance to their continued progress. They are both still ambulatory and will do many things for themselves if I am not around. Unfortunately, since I have been living here they have fallen into the habit of leaving everything that needs to be done to me. Both of my siblings live out of state, so I am the only one close enough to help. I still plan on helping them with the things that are beyond their capabilities, but I will not be available around the clock. I love my parents very much and I believe that they will live longer if they stay active as long as possible. I have come to the conclusion that I am enabling them and any attempt on my part to encourage their independence is met with resentment.
I also believe that I have to take care of myself and stay healthy in mind and body in order to be of any assistance to my parents, now or in the future. Doing that while living in their home has become an impossibility. In addition, I need my own home and privacy, just as they need theirs. In any event, while we all had good intentions, I believe my move was premature. I fully intend to be up for the challenge when their needs become more acute.
For those who have to live with elderly parents (or vice-versa), I strongly recommend joining a support group, either online or locally. There are many available. Even in the best of situations, caring for your parents can be highly stressful and talking with others in the same situation can be very beneficial. I also recommend, if possible, that you share the responsibility with any available family members so that you do not become overwhelmed. For those who have insurance benefits, look into having help come in once or twice a week. Most importantly, take care of yourself first, so that you will be able to care for others.
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© 2010 Mary Krenz
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