Q: I am absolutely overwhelmed with caring for my aging parents. It is so sad to watch them deteriorate. They require considerable care and there are days I wonder how much longer I can do this. I don’t know if I am just depressed or if stress is getting to me. How do I deal with this situation?
A: Blessed is the person who never experiences stress at some point in their life. You could very well be dealing with both depression and stress. Acknowledgement of how you are feeling is a positive step, learning to manage and reduce the stress is the next challenge.
Everyone should learn to recognize the signs of stress which can include headaches, muscle tension, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeats, loss of appetite or overeating, changes in sleeping patterns (unable to get a good night’s rest or sleeping more than normal) and always feeling tired. Emotional reactions may have a tendency towards displays of anger or irritability which are uncharacteristic of the person’s personality.
The first recommendations are actions you can take to deal with your personal stress. Exercise on a daily basis, routine should be based on your health and physical condition. Keep a journal and write down your feelings, be totally honest since this will be for your eyes only. Sometimes actually putting this to pen and paper actually helps you focus and clarify what the issues are that is causing the stress. Find a safe place to talk about your experience, this could be a good friend, a support group or more formal counseling session. Learn relaxation techniques, this could be meditation, yoga, finding a quiet place to listen to music...whatever puts you in a better frame of mind.
The next consideration is to engage others in the caregiving tasks. One person can only do so much, we all have our limits and breaking point. One caregiver specialist refers to “ditching the Superman cape”, perhaps you have been trying to do this on your own for far too long. Engage both informal and formal supports to assume some responsibility for your parents care. While you may continue to be the primary caregiver there may be others to help you on either a regular or occasional basis. Talk with other family members or good friends who may be more than willing to get involved. Find out what services are available provided by the Area Agency on Aging, Senior Center or other community organizations.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Direct all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, the Area Agency on Aging for the 23 cities and towns of the Merrimack Valley.