caring for an elderly parent

The Emotional Challenges Of Caring For An Elderly Parent

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Caring for an elderly parent can create a wide range of conflicting emotions in the care giver. Here we look at some of these emotions and highlught strategies to help you cope with them. It is not easy caring for an elderly parent but with the right help and supportyou can provide the care they need in the comfort and familiarity of a family home.

Whether you are suddenly thrust into the position of being a carer for your elderly parent, or you’ve slowly chosen to become their carer to avoid care home costs and to respect their wishes to stay at home, there’s an absolute whirlwind of emotions involved.

Some of these feelings can be apparent right from the start, but others might come later on.

You should know that whatever you have felt, are feeling, or might feel in the future: your emotions are valid, and normal, and allowed. And you don’t have to suffer in silence – you deserve support with these emotions, good and bad.

Some emotions you might encounter are:

Boredom

As your social life, desires, needs and interests aren’t fulfilled because of your responsibility to care, you might feel bored. No longer will you have the freedom to do what you want when you want.

Ambivalence

Feeling mixed emotions of wanting and not wanting to provide care for your parent or relative.

Anxiety

As the situation is somewhat out of your control, anxiety and worry build inside causing all kinds of physical and emotional symptoms.

Loneliness

You’re in this on your own, often with nobody to talk to and, perhaps, nobody who truly understands what you are going through.

Irritability

You’re exhausted, and stressed, and so naturally you’re irritable and have little patience.

Depression

This is an intense emotional situation with a deep impact on a person’s life, so depression is common.

Resentment

You might resent your parent for needing the care, or for ‘taking away’ the life you once had.

Embarrassment

You might feel embarrassed with your parent’s behaviour, or when you have to clean them, which can be difficult for people who haven’t been care givers before. You might feel embarrassed by how they talk to others, or even how they talk to you.

Fear

You are fearful about the future, about the things that might happen, about the things that probably will happen.

Frustration

You are frustrated at the situation, frustrated at yourself, frustrated at everything it can sometimes seem.

Anger

Feeling a bubbling rage inside is a particularly common emotion in relation to caring for people close to us with dementia.

Grief

You are grieving for the relationship with your parent you once had, for the way things were years ago. You might be grieving for the life you left behind so that you can provide care.

Guilt

Guilt is so common in people caring for an elderly parent. You might feel guilty if you take some respite, you might feel guilty for not doing enough, or doing something wrong. You might feel guilty for your parent being ill in the first place. You might feel guilty for even thinking about avoiding care home costs and factoring money into any decision you make. You might feel guilty wishing your parent could be looked after by someone else.

These are just some of the emotions you might feel when caring for an elderly parent, and you might experience these emotions in a wide variety of ways and for lots of different reasons. All of these emotions are normal, and all of them are valid but can be an extra burden on top of the practical challenges of caring for the elderly. If you do feel you are struggling to cope with your care-giving position or any emotions you are feeling and you need support, remember that a number of organisations offer help and support, including Age UK and Citizen’s Advice.

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • This is so true. I spent the last 5 years caring for one parent after another and suffered from most of the emotions above. I was lucky to have a sister who could share the burden but it had a dramatic effect on both of us. I put on 2 stone in weight and she became skeletal. Both ended up on anti-depressants and lived mostly on adrenaline! However, once we found Live-in Care, our lives changed. The worry didn’t go away, but we didn’t have to do the physical caring (bathing, cleaning up “accidents”, being in their house all day), but were able to rely on the amazing carers, leaving us to do the more pleasant things. It doesn’t clear you of all the tasks, but we were able to sleep and not panic if the phone rang! Excellent article. Thank you.

    Reply
  • I certainly experienced this whilst caring for my father during the last couple of years of his life. As an only child, my mum and I took on the role to care for my father (not knowing that live-in care existed at that time!) I think that we both experienced all of the emotions that are mentioned in the article at some point, but most of all we didn’t have time to grieve for the man that we were so obviously losing. I know that my mum felt guilt for taking time for herself when she felt that she should be ‘on call’ virtually 24 hours a day and was elderly herself, I practically had to ‘frogmarch’ her out of the house so that she would go out for a few hours and get some fresh air and time to herself. I had changed jobs so that I could just work part-time hours and then have extra time to help with my dad’s care and also to be with her to make sure that she was looking after herself as well, as she was so focussed on my father needs. It was definitely a time of ‘role reversal’ for me as I became a carer for both of my parents during this time.

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    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for the link to your article – indeed it makes a very important point that elderly people, whether they are our own parents or not, are entitled to make their own choices about medical care and tests and, of course, how they choose to live their last months or years.
      All too often these decisions are taken out of their hands by well-meaning social workers and family members who think they know what is best.
      You might be interested in reading our Reports “Better at Home” and “No Place Like Home” which provide details of why the elderly fare much better in all sorts of ways being cared for in their own homes.

      Reply
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