Taking Care of Aging Parents — and Mental Health

Caring for Aging Parents and Mental Health

Taking care of aging parents can be rewarding and frustrating. For many, it becomes almost a full-time job when they’re parenting aging parents. What often gets overlooked is the mental health of the caregiver.

Estimates of family caregivers range from 48 to 53 million people. The average duration of caregiving is about 4.5 years, and some caregivers have been parenting aging parents longer than five years. Americans are also living longer, so the expected need for caregiving continues to increase.

Caring for Parents Has Its Challenges

Parenting aging parents doesn’t come with a ready-made handbook. Each situation is different. So are the personalities, physical and cognitive abilities, temperament, and closeness of the parent to the caregiver.

Behavioral and Emotional Changes of Aging Parents

As parents age, they take multiple medications to manage various physical and mental health conditions. For individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the deterioration from healthy, active, psychologically and cognitively sound to severely impaired, cognitively diminished, and emotionally damaged can be rapid. Finding ways to provide ongoing care in a loving, capable manner challenges anyone caring for parents.

How to Balance Personal Life and Caregiver Duties

Caregiving takes up a lot of your life. For family caregivers, this can range from 24 to 37 hours of care per week. Caregiver duties include a range of instrumental activities of daily living (IADL). These include transportation, cooking, cleaning, medication management, laundry, shopping, and tending to finances.

Given such demands, balancing a personal life with caregiving can become increasingly difficult.

Navigating Financial Hurdles in Caring for Parents

Not only do aging parents often require help managing finances, but the costs associated with their care may become burdensome.

How to Handle Resistance from Aging Parents

Your parents may feel that you’re intruding on their lives. Even if they’re becoming less able to care for themselves or are long past the point of doing so confidently, they may resent and resist you taking over their care.

How can you reduce their resistance? Consider these tips:

  • See the situation from their point of view. Understanding why they don’t want or are unwilling to accept your care is essential. This means candid, gentle conversation with them to discuss their concerns. They’re likely afraid and concerned about their declining abilities and how rapidly they’re aging.
  • Offer alternative care options. These may include adult day care, home care, or assisted living services. Remember that an honest and compassionate discussion of each option’s pros and cons is crucial. Most importantly, let your parents make their own care decisions. You can encourage them, but they must decide.

Mental Health Implications of Taking Care of a Parent

The emotional impact on the mental health of those caring for parents is formidable. No matter how much you love your parents, taking care of a parent requires tremendous strength, resilience, patience, empathy, compassion, love, and separation. It is essential to recognize and learn how to cope with the considerable stress and other mental health implications of parenting aging parents.

How Caregiving Affects Your Mental Health

For caregivers taking care of a parent, especially when the caregiving is long-term or intensive, there are primary and secondary mental health symptoms to be aware of. It’s important to recognize these implications so you can learn how to cope with them or seek professional help.

Mental Health Implications for Caregivers

The range of emotions and mental health implications for caregivers include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse
  • Anger
  • Stress
  • Burnout

How to Maintain Mental Wellness While Caring for Parents

Good self-care strategies are essential for anyone caregiving and parenting aging parents. While your focus is on doing your best for your parents, you must also tend to your mental health needs. This isn’t automatic, as your attention is directed to them, not yourself.

Self-Care Strategies

How do you maintain mental wellness while caregiving? To help make the process go smoother, make a caregiving plan that includes the following;

  • Information Gathering — Learn as much as possible about their mental and physical health conditions. This will better prepare you to parent aging parents.
  • Clear Communications — Insist on open, honest, and clear communications. Many issues are challenging to talk about, and the increasing deterioration of loved ones is an emotional, psychological, and physical hurdle you’ll need to be able to manage.
  • Be Candid About Constraints and Limitations — You can’t do everything, and neither can your aging parent. It’s vital to discuss what you and they can and cannot do in a compassionate, helpful manner.
  • Parenting Aging Parents Remotely — Caring for parents from afar requires a balancing act. Navigating in-home or visiting caregivers, arranging for nursing home care, or finding other solutions takes time, money, and flexibility.

How to Cope with Stress

Stress is inevitable when parenting aging parents, especially when it takes more and more of your time. There never seems to be a break to catch your breath, let alone deal with the guilt of taking time for yourself. Another sure sign of stress is becoming resentful of taking care of an aging parent.

However, you’ll wind up even more exhausted and overwhelmed without a plan to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. This doesn’t require that you neglect your parents’ care. It does mean learning how to cope with mounting stress. Here are some practical tips for dealing with stress.

  • Get help from others. You simply can’t do everything yourself. Ask other family members, friends, or professionals to care for parents.
  • Take time to relax and reduce stress. Do activities like yoga, music, dancing, reading, gardening, meditation, painting, or hobbies.
  • Be sure to maintain social connections. This may entail joining a support group for parental caregivers or getting counseling from a therapist.

Seeking Support While Taking Care of an Aging Parent

Taking care of an aging parent can deplete a person emotionally, psychologically, and physically. It’s not easy parenting aging parents, even if caring for parents isn’t considered a burden. Older adults may have severe physical and psychological impairments that make caregiving more challenging.

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, for example, means a gradual progression of the disease with coinciding diminishment in cognitive, functional, and physical abilities. An estimated 6.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s today. That could increase to nearly 14 million by 2060.

Stress, burnout, depression, sadness, exhaustion, anxiety, and loneliness among Alzheimer’s caregivers can become a severe problem. You aren’t being selfish to seek support. Getting support is critical for your well-being and mental health.

Licensed Therapists

If the situation becomes overwhelming, seek professional help for parenting aging parents. Consider that your parents will have no one to care for them if you cannot continue caregiving duties.

Who better to help you navigate the stresses and mental health challenges of parenting aging parents than a licensed therapist? By taking the proactive approach of seeing an accredited therapist, you get professional help to cope with relationship issues, anxietydepression, anger, and other mental health concerns associated with taking care of a parent.

Resources to Help

Gathering information through helpful resources is necessary to help you in caring for your parents and maintaining your mental health and well-being. Check out the resources available through the following:

  • Family Caregiver Alliance — This nonprofit organization is committed to improving the quality of life for caregivers and those they care for.
  • Family Caregiver Toolbox — Available through the Caregiver Action Network, this toolbox contains resources, tools, and tips for parenting aging parents.
  • Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers — This in-depth guide is available through the National Alliance for Caregiving for anyone providing care for a person with a mental health condition.

Caregiver Support Groups

It may be wise to check out a caregiver support group near you. Here, you can discuss your problems parenting aging parents and hear what others have to say about their experiences. These groups meet in person or online, offering convenience and accessibility if you cannot leave a parent unattended or have no one to provide care in your absence.

How to Find Caregiver Services

Where can you find caregiver services? Ask your doctor or call the healthcare provider for your parent. You can also check the websites of healthcare organizations, especially those specializing in your parent’s health problems, to find online caregiver support groups.

  • Family Care Navigator (Family Caregiver Alliance)
  • Elder Care Services Search (through the U.S. Department of Aging)
  • Resources for Caregivers (American Psychological Association)
  • Respite Locator (Arch National Respite Network)