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April 25, 2015 / 6 Iyar, 5775
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Practical Ideas For Caregiving

        Last week I discussed a situation where one child has taken in an ageing and ill parent to live with them and finds that his/her siblings are not contributing to the parent’s care. They are not visiting the parent frequently nor providing a break for their care-giving sibling. This cannot help but cause tremendous anger on the part of the family that is caring for the parent. Resentment directed at not only those at fault, but at each other because of the constant tension.

 

         This situation is not that dissimilar to caring for a parent when you are an only child. In both cases, it is left to you to devise ways to cope with the stress and make the situation better for yourself and your family.

 

         Even in the best of situations, a caregiver needs a break from caregiving. Whether it is to go on a vacatgion, be present at a simchah or, G-d forbid, a tragedy, or just to have a bit of time for yourself; having that break is as important as breathing. Without it you cannot go on. How do you get this break when you have no siblings to pitch in or siblings who refuse to help?

 

         Most Jewish high schools insist on chesed hours from their students. Contacting your local school and asking for an hour a day of visiting time for your parent from the chesed program would be a good place to start. Your parent will enjoy being around new faces and you will have a bit of time for yourself each day. It is important that the students who agree to come know what to expect and that the parent gets used to having them before she is left solely in their care. This should only take about two weeks. After that, the caregiver should take the time for herself, to give to herself, in order to reduce her stress level. She needs to use this time for things she will enjoy − anything that will make her life easier and more pleasant.

 

         Most Bikur Cholim organizations will help with transportation and even companions (if needed) for doctor appointments. The companion might agree to accompany your parent to all his/her appointments. They can take a list of your concerns and questions and bring back answers. This may free you from having to leave work for appointments and tests or give you a break from schedule juggling between parents and children. If you, or your parent, is uncomfortable with an intermediary talking to the doctor, just having someone drive them to the appointment with you meeting them there, may save you considerable time. This is particularly true if you work at the other end of town and go home to pick them up and drive them home for their appointments. It may not sound like much, but you might be surprised at how much tension is relieved after you shed just a bit of constant responsibility.

 

         Hiring a respite worker is another alternative, if you can afford it. These are professionals that will travel with or stay at home will your elderly parent for an extended period. This would allow you to have a vacation with your family or just get away by yourself, while leaving your elderly parent in good hands. Many hospitals and care facilities offer rooms for respite. Here even a multi-handicapped parent can get the care they need while you take a break.

 

         Be direct and open in asking for what you need from friends and family. They may not deliver, but then again they just might. If someone offers to help, tell the person what you need. It is his /her choice if the person wants to make the offer real. Don’t be embarrassed to accept or assume the person really didn’t mean it when it was offered. Such a volunteer might enjoy taking your parent out to the park, play cards or learn together and may even be willing to invite your parent for a Yom Tov meal, giving you and your family a chance to go elsewhere, where you parent is uncomfortable and refuses to go. Having a meal brought over may just give you the break you needed by not cooking that night. At the very least, it will make you feel cared about – something every caregiver needs.

 

         Whether you are a caregiver to a parent without siblings to help, or a caregiver with many siblings who won’t help, it is important to remember that the only person you have control over is yourself. In most cases it is only you that can change your situation. You cannot force people to do what they do not want to do. If you are alone, you may need to find support outside your family. Utilizing a neighbor, volunteer or friend or even someone you hire may go a long way to give you what you have been seeking all along.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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