Caregivers & Caring for an Aging Parent

Caregivers MonthNovember is National Caregiver’s Month. With Covid-19, caregiving has become more problematic. Routine care is complicated with social distancing, increased isolation, and fear of becoming ill. Add in flu season and concerns of available medical care and anxiety rises to an all-time high.

The way care is provided has changed. Caregivers do not touch their loved one as they used to, not knowing if it is dangerous to hug or get close to someone. Some caregivers have not been able to see loved ones who are in the hospital, an assisted living, or a nursing home facility. With decreased contact, care receivers may have declined cognitively and physically. The role as a caregiver may shift if care cannot be provided as it has been. Caregivers may feel like they are losing their identity as a caregiver. Some caregivers may feel guilt, as they cannot be with their loved one as much, especially if their loved one is in a facility that restricts visiting.

Important decisions need to be made daily by caregivers. Although never easy, moving a loved one to a facility is one of the hardest decisions to make. If one has adequate resources and supports, staying at home, even in difficult circumstances, can be an appropriate option. Unfortunately, most people do not have enough money, benefits, support persons, or resources to remain in the community, even with a caregiver’s support. When 24-hour care and medical attention is needed on a daily basis, difficult decisions need to be made. Caregivers have to weigh the dangers of their loved one staying in the community with inadequate supports or going to a facility with increased isolation and an increased chance of exposure to Covid-19. Caregivers should recognize that acting in the best interest of a loved one takes great strength and courage, with the realization that there is not a correct answer. Caregivers need to learn to be forgiving of themselves and recognize they are doing the best anyone could possibly do in the situation.

Self-care is very important for caregivers during this stressful time. Physical activity, socialization online or safely in-person, proper nutrition, and getting adequate sleep will go a long way in protecting a caregiver from isolation, depression, and grief. Caregivers need to let go of anything that cannot be controlled and focus on what can be done to improve the situation. Connecting with others going through a similar situation is also helpful. Online support groups and training is readily available for caregivers, with some groups focused on specific topics, like dementia, cancer, or Parkinson’s. Local senior centers, Shawnee Alliance, and Egyptian Area Agency on Aging are familiar with local and online resources for caregivers and can provide necessary information and referrals.

More programs are being developed to assist caregivers, with a new program available now to assist persons with dementia. Additionally, many other opportunities are being developed that will hopefully be available for our caregivers in the future. Providing care for an adult disabled child or aging parent or spouse is extremely common today.

Caregiving is not an easy task. It requires knowledge and skills of various types and often, if not always, putting one's own needs aside to attend to another. The emotional part of caregiving can be draining, especially when seeing a loved one decline physically and/or emotionally. Caregivers can become socially isolated due to not leaving the home and not being able to have meaningful relationships outside of their caregiver role. It is not uncommon for care receivers to outlive the caregiver as the physical effects of caregiving are overwhelming. It is extremely important that caregivers take care of themselves and find some personal time. The challenges of finding respite include few family or friends available to offer support and when a care receiver cannot be left alone for any length of time.

Caregivers need to take a break, talk to others in a similar situation, and find the resources needed for specific needs. Caregiver Support groups are a good option where offered. Senior Centers provide for a limited amount of respite hours, case-management, in-home counseling, and funds for items or devices to assist with caregiving. Additionally, they offer outreach, meals, socialization, and information and referrals, as well as programs specifically to target social isolation. For information for any of these programs, you can call your local senior center, the Egyptian Area Agency on Aging at 618-985-8311 or Shawnee Alliance at 618-985-8322.

We honor caregivers during the month of November. However, caregiving is an ongoing responsibility that lasts year round. Therefore, we present the following information to help our caregiver's cope with what is often a time consuming and difficult job.

There are many resources and guides available to caregivers in a crisis. Our family caregiver resource center focal points can help direct you to social services in Southern Illinois.

If your loved one lives elsewhere, the national ElderCare Locator can direct you to services in that locale.

The following questions can help you prioritize the steps you and your parent might need to take when working through a crisis.

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