You are juggling 4,569 metaphoric balls. You are keenly aware of how many of them you are dropping. You haven’t slept in weeks. And so the mere suggestion that you might be able to improve any aspect of your caregiving—even if that suggestion is something as innocuous as getting some help—tends to trigger a stalwart defense mechanism.
The message you signal: “You don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve got it all under control. Go away.”
Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. And that goes double in a caregiving situation when the suggestion is coming from someone who doesn’t appear to be shouldering their fair share of the work. But it may, in fact, be useful. So don’t dismiss it out of hand.
Three tricks to counter defensiveness:
- Be aware. Listen to yourself. Are you busy justifying your actions—maybe even before anyone has offered an alternative?
- Breathe. (This is always good advice). Remember, no one is suggesting you are a bad person; they are suggesting things that may make your life or the life of your care recipient easier.
- Put it in the third person. You know your situation best. But you may be too close to the action to judge some things accurately—that whole "not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees" thing. Try thinking about a friend in a comperable situation. If someone gave them similar advice, do you think they should take it?
- Give yourself a break. Above all, recognize that you are doing the best you can, and that your best is all anyone can ask. Even you.
Being a caregiver interferes with every aspect of your so-called normal life. And just like toddlers and teenagers who rail against their freedoms being curtailed, we resent this intrusion. Oh, maybe not at first, especially in a crisis-caregiving situation. But soon enough, when the adrenaline has worn off and all we can see is an endless hijacking of our lives.
Who do we resent? Other family members who aren’t pulling their fair share. Friends whose biggest worry is whether to get the red dress or the green one. And, worst of all, the person we love fiercely who is causing so much turmoil.
But that’s kind of tough to admit. So we bottle it up and go back to screaming at the siblings. The trouble is, resentment won’t stay bottled up very long. It festers. And then one day it is full-blown anger. Our advice: Tackle it before you get to that stage. Three ways to cope with resentment
- Let it out. To your trusted best friend. In the pages of a private journal. In an anonymous post in a caregiving blog (other readers will understand). In a caregiving support group.
- Take a step back. When you start feeling resentment, ask yourself if it is warranted. Could your sibling do more? If so, ask for something specific. Have they stranded you for the fourth time running? Maybe they have never been reliable. And before you blow up, think hard about whether the situation is worth wrecking your relationship over.
- Forgive yourself. Know that feeling resentment—like all these emotions—does not make you a bad person.
Fear comes in many flavors: What is going to happen to Mom? How can I handle it all? Will I end up this way, too? It’s natural. And it can consume your days and nights and every thought. You turn things over and over, like a sore that you just can’t stop yourself from touching.
The trouble is, that fear only makes things worse. You accomplish nothing for your loved one. And you give yourself headaches and stomach-aches, sleepless nights and probably poor dietary habits. Everyone loses.
It is important to acknowledge your fear—and to manage it, before it manages you.
Two tips for handling fear.
- Stare fear in the eye. What is the very worst thing that could happen? How would you handle it? What are your choices? Have other people gone through something similar? Are there some proactive steps you can take? If you know how you will deal with the worst case situation, you can be comfortable dealing with anything short of that.
- Figure out what you can control, and let the rest go. Easier written than done, I know. But there is no use lying awake at night fretting over things you have no way to impact. Don’t borrow trouble; you have enough already.
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
The words have become a joke—but in fact, they are no laughing matter. My father’s fall precipitated two year’s of declining health that led to his death. My mother’s fall deeply curtailed her mobility, leading to cascading health problems. Now in the last week three more adored elders have fallen prey to the fall. One friend’s father was found on the floor after three days. Another friend’s mother broke her back, tripping over a rug. And my beloved aunt, perched atop a stool to search for something in a top cabinet, went “Boom.” Happily she only bruised her ego. But together these incidents seem to point to the logic of another post on Fall Prevention.
The fact remains, falls are dangerous. And the more innately frail you are, the more dangerous they become. Hence this post, with four links to information on how to prevent falls.
1. Make the immediate environment safer
by eliminating things that tempt a trip
2. Practice balancing
3. Get plenty of Vitamin D
4. See our Fall Prevention checklist
And remember: When you are nearing 90, no matter how spry you are, you really shouldn’t be climbing on a chair.Be sure to read our series on Fall Prevention: Preventing a Fall (Part 1) with 6 simple ways to make your parent's environment safer; Preventing a Fall (Part 2) which offers tips to help their balance; Preventing a Fall (Part 3) with a link to a brochure for more tips. Also visit our Facebook Page and download our Fall Prevention checklist, found under "Reports."
It’s a fact
: The older we get the more likely we are to fall and the more likely we are to hurt ourselves on the way down. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that each year 30-40% of Americans over age 60 fall at least once. This is something you want to be very careful about when it comes to your parents.
Now, you are unlikely to convince the folks to replace that brick terrace with nice smooth concrete, and even more unlikely to successfully eliminate the step between the living room and dining room, but there are
a lot of environmental factors that are easily controlled, as we discussed in our previous post
There are also two key interventions regarding their person. Help them practice good balance
. Yep. Practice. There are a host of balance enhancing exercises, most of which can be done anywhere with no special equipment. For instance, try simply standing on one foot for 10 seconds, with your other leg bent back like a stork. Then switch legs. (Do this in front of a counter or a chair back, so there is something to grab if necessary). Not as easy as it sounds, is it? But with practice you will even be able to do it with your eyes closed. Tai chi is also terrific for balance and your gym should be able to show you other useful exercises. Don’t keep them to yourself; remember, this is about your parents, so make sure they do them, too. Check their medications
. The American healthcare system (don’t get me started) makes sure that everyone sees a lot of specialists. Every one of them manages to prescribe one or more new medicines. Very few first ask about what else someone is already taking. And let’s be honest: even if the doctor asks, practically no one actually knows the answer. Layer on our odd proclivity to take other people’s drugs (“This worked great for me, you should try some.”) and there is no telling what kind of internal stew any one of us is brewing. But I digress.
It’s a good habit to routinely rifle through your parents’ medicine cabinet, check expiration dates, note the full range of what is there, and cross-check for interactions. At the same time you can weed out the ones that cause dizziness or balance issues (a problem with several frequently prescribed sleep aides, for instance), then proactively ask the doctor for an alternative. The bottom line:
You need as much in your favor as humanly possible.This post is part two in a series.
Be sure to read Preventing a Fall (Part 1)
with 6 simple ways to make your parent's environment safer, and Preventing a Fall (Part 3)
with a link to a brochure with additional tips.
It can happen in the blink of an eye.
And everything changes.
Old bones shatter more dramatically—and heal more slowly. And the enforced idleness isn’t just inconvenient. (Though it is. For everyone. Believe me on this.) It can set off an avalanche of related health problems, from muscle atrophy to cardiac issues. So you really, really, really don’t want your aging parents to take a tumble.
The good news is that a few simple steps can help forestall that fall in the first place.
Pump up the lighting
. My family may call me hypocritical for writing this, because in an effort not to waste electricity we generally stumble around in the dark, but in truth, good lighting is invaluable in preventing a fall. Fundamentally, you have to be able to see where you are going—and aging eyes do that less well with every passing day. So use higher wattage bulbs, brighten up dim corners and be sure to install motion-sensor night lights. As a corollary to the whole vision thing: make sure your loved one’s eye-glass prescription is up to date. Clean up the junk
. Piles of old papers. Clothes on the floor. Stacks of books. Every one of them is a fall waiting to happen. This is particularly true on the stairs; stray objects blend into the carpet and are rendered invisible, especially to those heading downstairs. Rearrange the cabinets
. Put the things your parents use every day within easy reach, thus eliminating the temptation to climb on a step-stool (or worse kneel on the counter. Come on; you know you do it.) Go skid-free
. Move throw rugs out of the path of travel or fasten down their corners with double stick tape. Replace standard bathmats with non-skid mats and add the non-skid strips to the tub. I know they are ugly, but not as ugly as a shattered leg. Grab on
. Every stairway needs a sturdy handrail, preferably on both sides. And while you’re at it, replace the bathroom towel racks with grab bars—there are good-looking ones now. Otherwise, when your parent slips on some water, they will end up yanking the towel bar out of the wall on their way down, and you’ll have to call a plasterer as well as 911. Raise those hems
. Long dresses. High heels. Long dresses with high heels. Even the most nimble of us get caught. So banish the stilettos and get the hemlines off the ground; tea-length gowns are lovely even on the most special occasions. And remember, fashionistas aren’t the only ones at risk: backless slippers and loose pants are both equally threatening.
Here’s the bottom line: Look around your parents’ house. Anything that has ever caused you (or worse, them) to slightly stumble is an accident waiting to happen. Fix it now.This post is the first in a series on Fall Prevention. Be sure to also read
: Preventing a Fall (Part 2) which offers tips to help balance and Preventing a Fall (Part 3) with a link to a brochure for more tips. Also visit our Facebook Page and download our Fall Prevention checklist, found under "Reports."