Caring for an elderly relative at-home: Six common issues

Caring for an elderly relative at home can be physically and emotionally overwhelming and exhausting.

It is important to remember that many people experience the same challenges that you may be facing. Try to look after your own mental health and emotions by confiding in a friend or someone you can comfortably talk to. Take some time for yourself while trying not to feel guilty. A caregiver needs to try to balance the time spent with healthy and unwell or elderly family members and this too can be hard.

Changing dynamics and upholding dignity

The change in family dynamics and near role reversal can lead to challenges. You need to be sensitive and understanding to both parties. Daily activities such as driving, cleaning, shopping and cooking may become too much for your elderly relative to cope with and it may lead to you having them move into your home.

You must allow the elderly person to feel involved and consult them in planning that affects their life. You need to create a safe environment for them but not treat them like children. They need to be able to maintain a level of dignity. Depending on your particular situation, many elderly people become incontinent and this can be extremely embarrassing for them to deal with. Understand their need for privacy and give them space at times. Incontinence pads are one way of dealing with this issue discreetly. They protect mattresses, beds and chairs and are an effective way to maintain dignity and comfort.

Health and safety considerations

You may need to investigate making structural changes to your home to accommodate your relative. They must be reassured that their safety is your main priority. Elderly people are prone to falls and forgetfulness as their memory and concentration decrease. This can prove risky when they repeatedly leave the cooker on high and burn the food. They often experience fatigue, changes in sleeping patterns and a weakened immune system. The caregiver also needs to take care of their own mental and physical well-being to remain in optimum health for the caring duties.

As their bodily functions slow down and even deteriorate, you must accompany them to doctor’s visits to ensure you understand what the treatment plan may be. Try to be sensitive to their mental health issues and feelings of isolation and abandonment. It can be challenging to deal with their unpredictable, difficult behavior, especially if you have children in the house. Communicate to the children on a level that they can understand about how the relative is unable to control their outbursts or strange behavior.

Managing relationships and financial implications

Family members may not support the caregiver as there may be conflicting ideas about what is the best route. Communication is vital to allow all parties to have their say, including the elderly relative. Even though much time is spent on caring for the person, be sure to spend some quality time with them by reading to them or watching their favorite series.  

The financial and legal implications also need to be discussed. Not only does an extra person in the home lead to extra costs but you may be taking more time away from your paying job. These issues need to be discussed. 

The loss of independence is often resisted by elderly people as they lose their social life and the ability to cope alone. Depression and anxiety are common at this stage and some sensitivity, compassion and understanding are needed.

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