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Caring for Difficult Aging Parents
Aging is Unavoidable
Aging is a natural process and all of us who live long enough are bound to be aged one day. However, elderly persons have many emotional, physiological and culture clash problems. As a result they may prove quite a handful to care for, especially since the persons providing such care are usually younger than them, mostly immediate family relations. To cope with the demands of providing such care, the relative involved must be prepared to deal with a number of difficulties and complications. These can be stressful and demanding on the caregiver. Consequently, it is important to highlight the issues involved so that caregivers can have a reference point around which to work. Some of those issues are highlighted here.
Old persons, mainly above 75 years of age, have little regenerative abilities and are thus susceptible to a number of ailments. Among the most common are bone and joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. In addition, they may suffer from chronic conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
Moreover, such persons typically suffer from diminishing hearing or sight or both. Some of them have digestive problems, teeth falling off and less saliva production, which all cause problems in food ingestion and digestion. In addition, they generally experience diminished libido, immunity and sleep. These combine to make them susceptible to loneliness, infections and irritability respectively.
Dealing with Health Issues
Some of the conditions that face older persons are treatable while others are not. The untreatable conditions result in chronic illnesses. Consequently, taking care of older persons will include continuous care for these conditions. Where the caregiver does not have sufficient time to deal with these illnesses, then the older person may complain of being neglected thus stressing the caregiver. Though nurses may be hired to chip in, the older person may complain demanding attention from his own children rather than hired help.
The treatable issues may also demand a lot of money. This can prove to be a major problem for the caregiver, considering that most insurance companies don’t have policies to cover older persons. In such cases, the caregiver should not struggle alone, but should look around for organizations in and outside government that offer care for the elderly. This may give relief especially where the ailment in question is very expensive to treat.
The main social problem facing older persons is loneliness. They find themselves living without their closest friends and peers, who have long passed away. Consequently, they find it difficult to share anything in common with most of the people around them due to the huge generation gap. Because of this, the younger caregivers find their older protégés irritable, unreasonable and demanding. Even engaging in normal conversation is difficult since the interests of the caregiver are at variance with those of the elder. Some of the older persons also interfere in the relationships of their younger caregivers by competing for attention with the younger persons’ spouses. They do all this in a vain attempt to gain the much needed company.
Some older persons also have suicidal tendencies. They feel that they have outlived their usefulness and are thus better off dead. This means that they have to be watched constantly to avoid a case where they harm themselves. Such tendencies cause a lot of anxiety for their relatives who have to now keep watch all the time, or hire someone to do so.
Lack of mobility among some elders may also mean that the caregivers have to help them with basic hygiene. This includes bathing them and helping them to relieve themselves. That too is very demanding since at times they may experience unexpected bowel movement so they end up soiling themselves. They could then blame the caregivers for not being keen and prompt on caring for them.
Dealing With the Social Issues
Arrangements should be made whenever possible to have the elderly persons meet with their existing age-mates where that is possible. One way of doing that is to take them to homes set aside for elderly persons where they interact and share stories. Moreover, a person may be found in the neighborhood that is old enough to interact with the elder occasionally. This is important since the other elderly person may be suffering from loneliness as well. Such exposure may reduce outbursts of rage or suicidal tendencies.
Older persons generally have very low self-esteem. They are greatly frustrated by the inability to do simple things which they once achieved with ease. Moreover, some of them tend to envy younger persons at the prime of their lives. This sets up a potentially explosive ground when they interact with their younger caregivers. In some cases they take out all their frustrations on the young relative who is supporting them.
Moreover, fast changing times mean that the values that the older person held dear in the past may have drastically changed for the younger generation. The elder may be totally opposed to practices such as casual dressing, eating out or organizing parties in the house; thus making the life of the caregiver miserable.
Dealing with Emotional Issues
Like the social issues, a change of scene goes a long way in uplifting the self esteem of the elder. Taking them to places they previously visited on their own such as parks, church or the mall, may uplift their spirits. Watching plays, the orchestra or a game, may also bring good memories that may result in a change of mood for the better. Nevertheless, such excursions are expensive, yet the elder may keep unreasonably demanding for them. The caregiver can only do so much. So, such unreasonable demands should be countered with gentle explanations on why it is not possible to go out again. Usually, such explanations will be grudgingly accepted, but in some cases, they may only provoke a flurry of insults from the elder.
It is never easy for the caregiver who supports an older relative. The caregiver may feel that he is not doing enough or he is doing too much. On the other hand, the elder may be too demanding or guilty of being a burden. Whatever the case, a balance must be struck so that the elder can enjoy his sunset days as much as is practically possible.