Starting Your Role As Caregiver
Where to Begin?
It's time to start thinking of yourself as a caregiver when the following types of events occur:
- A major health problem, or a collection of smaller ones, is starting to cramp your mother's style.
- Financial problems (overdrawn checks, unpaid bills, huge credit balances) start cropping up.
- Grandpa doesn't get out as much as he used to and seems less interested in what's going on around him.
- Home maintenance is slipping: things that break around your parent's house are not repaired.
- Your parent's, lawn or garden, once meticulous, becomes overgrown.
- Dad's refrigerator is poorly stocked, or food that is past its prime still hangs around.
- Your grandfather just passed away, and your grandmother is living alone for the first time in forty years.
- Your father doesn't dress as spiffily as he once did and has stopped shaving and doing other personal care rituals.
- Mom has a fender bender at the mall for the second time this year.
- Dad seems distracted or forgetful when you speak to him on the phone.
- You've figured out that helping the older adult in your life now, even when there are no clear problems, might help prevent trouble later.
Get online if you're not there already. There is a wealth of helpful information for older adults and caregivers on the Internet. If you can introduce your parents to the Internet, that's great. If you can't, let them watch as you surf, just so they can get a feel for the help that's out there. If you're not computer literate or you don't own a computer, go to the library and arrange to take lessons if you can -- most public libraries offer Internet access these days. Don't cut yourself off from the world of help that's out there for you. Don't storm the gates at the first sign of trouble. If you feel you should get more involved in your mother's life, do it as gradually and respectfully as possible. Remember that if you're really trying to help, you'll do a lot better if you don't alienate or overwhelm her.
"It took me a while to realize that my parents needed help. I was so close to the situation and it happened so gradually that I didn't catch on -- or maybe I didn't want to catch on and admit that they were in trouble, because it was painful to see. Anyway, my best friend came with me to visit them one afternoon. Since she was more removed and not personally involved, she could see what was going on more clearly, and she opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to take some action."
Define your responsibilities as a caregiver. Make a list. Set up guidelines for what you will and won't do. Put it in writing and stick to it. If other family members can't help, make a decision to hire someone to perform the duties you can't or would rather not handle.