Caring for an Elderly Parent is a Challenge but Rewarding Too

A personal account of the struggles and triumphs of caring for an elderly parent, including the physical and emotional challenges faced and strategies for coping with them. Learn from one person's journey and find comfort in knowing you're not alone.

Caring for an Elderly Parent is a Challenge but Rewarding Too
Caring for an elderly parent

By Sue (East of the Mississippi).

It’s scary sometimes. Caring for an elderly parent can sure be a challenge. But without a doubt, it is rewarding too. Little did I know, that when I picked my 73 year old mother up from the airport… less than 3 years ago, how much my life would change. Mom loved to travel. And frequently would book bargain trips through the “Elder Hostel” organization. This trip was to the rainforest in South America.

As a (hyper active woman, it was no surprise that she was zip cording through the tree tops in the rainforest. And white water rafting, as well! Yee Haw!

She was having a blast going where very few “elderly” would ever consider. Going and doing activities that would even have me thinking twice. As I pulled up to the pick-up spot at the airport I saw this sunken old woman bent over in a wheelchair left at the curb.

I thought to myself, “How cruel that someone would abandon a poor old person like that.” I didn’t see my mother so I circled the airport two or three times trying to reach her on her cell. Each time I passed the pick-up spot that poor old woman was still huddled in that wheelchair.

I think my anger that someone could treat anyone so harshly made me stop to ask if I could help.

Yes, you are absolutely right. . .

That poor old woman was my mother!

I barely recognized her.

Her face was contorted in pain, she was all hunched over and had this frail, fragile look. Needless to say I was shocked and very concerned! But of course, as a nurse, my mother had self-diagnosed. She decided she was having a slight back strain. This strain was severely aggravated by the long flight and she refused to let me take her to the emergency room.

As her pain increased, the next three days became a challenge. I needed to get her in to see the back specialist, diagnosed, and to make sure she was as comfortable as possible.

The fourth morning as I checked on her had me dialing 911 and transported to the emergency room. She had become incoherent and violently ill. I thought it was from the pain medication.

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    How wrong I was.

    Our little community hospital discovered she barely had any white blood cells….a sure indication of a rapidly spreading cancer. They called a med-flight to bring her to Mass General.

    She was given a few days to live.

    Not surprising, as a true, hardy, tough as nails fighter, Mom managed to beat back the cancer for almost 6 months. Her goal was simply to get well enough to go home.

    She did. I brought her home to stay a handful of weeks here. A few days there when her health allowed so she could tend her beloved gardens and sink into her own bed.

    We laughed together. . . a lot.

    Caring for an Aging Parent 

    I cried, a lot. Mom doesn’t cry, she fights.

    I had raging temper tantrums at my brother… who wanted to dictate treatment plans from across the country but was too “busy” to come help. I snuggled into my husbands arms in exhaustion every night. I cried some more.

    More raging fits of temper tantrums at hospital staff who didn’t tend to my mother for hours on end.

    She struggled …to get to the bathroom on her own… feed herself…or to get a simple drink of water. It’s amazing what a quick response you get when you collapse in a heap and cry hysterically. While banging on the floor with your fists in front of the nurse’s station!

    Boy, do they ever hop to it and FAST! It’s a highly recommended strategy… in getting the care you need for anyone who has to stay for extended times in the hospital. Then of course, much more laughing …with my Mom and sister.

    As the cancer attacked Mom’s brain she started to hallucinate rather frequently.

    Believe it or not …the time she pointed her shaking finger at me as I was leaving her hospital room … after feeding her breakfast. She demanded that I take the lion pacing at the door, with me on my way out . She was meaning me. It is one of my favorite memories.

    After I suggested that it was her “guardian lion” here to protect her… she grudgingly consented to let it stay for a little while. She then settled in to have a rather long and pleasant chat with her guardian lion for the entire morning!

    Mom created an entire new repertoire of stories for us. We now share with each other and laugh together instead of cry when we trade our memories.

    Caring for an elderly parent, one who is defying death with every fiber of her being… is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but created the most precious and lasting memories.

    Everyone relieves stress in different ways.

    I choose… laughter, hysterical crying and collapsing in a heap of raging temper tantrums. Each worked its own magic in getting me through the next moment, the next hour, and the next day.

    woman sitting on wheelchair
    Caring for an elderly parent while your aging is a challenge

    Sue,

    Your story touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Caring for a loved one is an emotional roller coaster. I am so glad that you have good memories of your mom.

    As a patient advocate and family member, I, too, have been in situations where I threw “temper tantrums”. Yes, it was to get the attention of the staff to provide appropriate care.

    Too many family members do not want to “bother” the staff. In today’s medical delivery system, the staff is expected to do more with less. It is necessary for a family member to be proactive and advocate for appropriate care.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I hope others will share their experiences here as well.

    Tips for Caring for Aging Parents

    Balancing the Care of Aging Parents: Challenges and Benefits Explored

    Discover the realities of caring for very old parents while navigating your own aging process. While stories of remarkable elderly individuals abound, the majority of 90-somethings and centenarians face health challenges that require the support of their older adult children.

    In the insightful "Boston Aging Together Study," 114 parent-child pairs in the Boston area were interviewed. The parents were aged 90 or older, while their children were 65 or older. Professor Kathrin Boerner, a leading expert in gerontology at UMass Boston, delves into the findings in her latest paper, titled "'I'm Getting Older Too': Challenges and Benefits Experienced by Very Old Parents and Their Children," published in the esteemed Journal of Applied Gerontology.

    Boerner's research confirms that caring for elderly parents is a significant issue, even for those with positive relationships and ample support. The situation can prove exceptionally challenging, particularly for those with strained relationships. Remarkably, the past still holds sway, influencing the present circumstances.

    The study reveals that adult children face an array of challenges when it comes to caring for their aging parents, far outweighing the rewards. Advanced age, personal health issues, unexpectedly prolonged caregiving due to their parents' longevity, isolation, emotional overwhelm, financial strain, and concerns for their own health all contribute to the difficulties faced.

    To address this growing societal issue, the researchers recommend the implementation of robust services and policies. Practical guidance and support services aimed at alleviating the burdens on older children caring for their elderly parents are essential. Health care professionals should provide concrete strategies on navigating and preparing for the challenges of aging, both for the parents and their adult children. Mental health support is critical for both parties, helping to ease the psychological burden on the children while assisting the elderly parents in managing guilt over burdening their children.

    Boerner and her colleague Daniela Jopp embarked on this study to shed light on the unique challenges faced by older caretakers, an area that has remained understudied. These challenges differ significantly from those faced by middle-aged caretakers since older caregivers often grapple with their own health issues. The expectation of eventually being free to pursue personal endeavors is shattered when caretaking duties have no end in sight.

    The Growing Aging population and the family caregiver needs to be addressed.

    With the population of older citizens rapidly expanding, understanding this issue has become more crucial than ever. Boerner emphasizes the social pressure that older adult children face, unable to candidly discuss their challenges due to societal expectations. This echoes the experience of new mothers with postpartum depression, who are expected to feel pure bliss. This recognition of the children's struggles has proven invaluable.

    Addressing the complexities of caring for an elderly parent while confronting one's own aging process requires a compassionate and informed approach. It is vital that we deepen our understanding of this multifaceted issue to better support families in this common and challenging situation.

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