10 Things Never to Say to Caregivers of Elderly Parents
1. What a gift to care for your parent as she cared for you!
Intellectually, caregivers know this, yet caregiving can be stressful and messy, even when performed with great love, says Judith Henry, author of The Dutiful Daughter's Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir. "There are days that we question our sanity, our decisions and our ability to go on," she says. Allowing caregivers to verbalize feelings of frustration and exhaustion without judgment is also a gift, she says.
2. You have it all under control.
When social worker Lynn Emery took over the care of her elderly mother, "people expected the countless decisions to be easy and that I didn't need help" because she's a trained professional, she recalls. In reality, "the last thing I felt was in control. Having to weigh all the options kept me up at night," she admits. While it should take a village, the main caregiver is more likely to be a daughter who is trying to balance a job, relationships and her own children while caring for a parent. Telling her she's handling it well discounts her feelings of being overwhelmed.
3. Why don't you just ask for help?
No one is more shocked than the caregiver at the lack of support. "Unfortunately, families don't always live close or family dynamics are such that help is not forthcoming," says Lynette Whiteman, Executive Director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey. Plus, "paying for help is incredibly expensive and not covered by insurance." A way to be helpful is to offer concrete suggestions and hands on-assistance, she says.
4. Be happy; at least your parent is still alive.
While many people do feel fortunate to have their parent, others are overcome with the work, worry and anticipatory grief involved with keeping an aging loved one safe. "When I'm totally stressed out, that statement doesn't take into account what I'm going through," says Whiteman. "It just serves to make me feel incredibly guilty for expressing frustration."
5. You need to take care of yourself.
To someone deeply enmeshed in elder care, this may seem downright impossible. "If we had time to take a luxurious bath, get a pedicure or spend an afternoon reading, we would," says Henry. "Instead of putting the responsibility for self-care completely on caregivers, try offering them tangible assistance, such as delivering a hot meal, taking the kids for an afternoon or helping with a chore."
6. This is beyond you.
A parent depends on them and they want to do the best possible job, so caregivers often take on more than they should. Sometimes one person steps up because other family members are unable to help. "I questioned, at times, if it would be beyond me, but I was determined," says Kay Renz, a public relations professional who cared for her mom at home until her passing. "If you fear a caregiver is reaching the breaking point, then reach out in a gentle way," she says. Listen to what is going on, rather than criticize the caregiver's abilities.
7. You can't put your parent in a nursing home!
Many people would rather not turn to a nursing facility, but sometimes it's the best option. "No one does this lightly," says Anne Tumlinson, founder of Daughterhood.org, a website devoted to women caring for their parents. "This decision can be a matter of life and death for the caregiver, who in the case of dementia or Alzheimer's, is not sleeping and is doing hard physical labor." Besides, it's not as if the caregiving ends once a parent is in a home; the responsibility for overall management of their life continues.
8. What are you going to do with the house?
"This is hurtful, because the family caregiver is always checking their motives," says Daphne Mallory, Esq., who writes on senior living issues. "Are they acting out of the best interest of their parents? It distracts them and causes pain." And if you're asking this as a subtle way of reminding them of this asset, "Don't you think they know and understand that something has to be done with the house that their aging parents love and cherish?"
9. We never see you anymore.
Caregivers often find themselves lost in the world of the person they're caring for, and it may be a while before they re-emerge. "It implies that there is just one more thing the caregiver is doing that's inadequate," says Tumlinson. A more helpful approach: Acknowledge how isolating it is to care for aging parents, she says, and help the caregiver find a suitable way to connect with family and friends.
10. I'm sure your parent appreciates what you're doing.
While some elderly parents are filled with gratitude, others are unable, unwilling or too unhappy to be appreciative. Caregiving is often a thankless job and heaps of praise won't remedy things. "All that they do feels inadequate because the work lacks satisfying goals," says Tumlinson. Basically, the job is to keep an ailing person as healthy as possible, and caregivers don't have 100% control over the outcomes.
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