Caring for Elderly Parents

This blog is going to be more of a personal nature, one that I am probably writing for my own healing and sanity.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve witnessed my father’s health deteriorate, and I saw the man he once was, slowly slip away. I’m sure it is one of the most difficult experiences anyone can go through. In the earlier stages of this experience, my focus was on finding the right kind of medical help and support. Going from doctor to doctor and from hospital to hospital in an attempt to understand what is happening to him and how we can help him. During that phase, I believed that if I could just find the right doctor or the right cure, that my dad would go back to his previous state of health, which wasn’t great, but at least he could eat without vomiting.

It took us a year to get a full picture of what was going on with my dad, and during that time his health deteriorated significantly and he lost 30 kilograms of his body weight. Slowly we began to realize that we couldn’t take care of him by ourselves and we needed a nurse. My father’s stomach lining was in really bad shape because he had been on some really strong medications for a long time, which led to this deterioration of his stomach lining, the loss of appetite, and constant vomiting. Later in the year, we found out that his thyroid gland had stopped working. After significant changes in his medications, my dad’s health started to stabilize, but at this point, he had lost too much weight, too much muscle mass, and became bed-ridden.

In addition to his physical condition, My dad had vascular dementia as a result of suffering three minor strokes. I don’t know which part was harder, watching his physical or his mental deterioration. Seeing this man whom I had known all my life to be bigger than life itself, incredibly handsome, smart, and funny, an encyclopedia of history and poetry, the very pillar of life for us, become so weak and incapacitated.

I’m sure this is an experience that many of you can relate to. It is an inevitable phase of human life, to become a caregiver or to need care. I can’t begin to describe how overwhelming it all was. It happened so quickly and so suddenly. My father’s health situation impacted the entire household. My children were extremely worried about him, My daughter was depressed and my son of 13 was extremely frightened for his grandfather. A couple of years into this ordeal I started to go into depression and my mother who was in her early seventies and with a number of health conditions as well was exhausted from lack of sleep and constantly caring for my dad.

After months of research and calling upon all the resources I could find, my father was set up with the right kind of bed, mattress healthcare, and nursing, but it had become painfully clear that he was not going to regain his health and that this had become his new norm. A life of being bedridden, in agony, and depressed.

It was clear at this point that this was going to be our life from this point forward, caring for my aging, sick dad in the time of Corona. Corona, of course, compounded everything because the very idea of taking my dad to hospitals was terrifying. Luckily, he was never exposed to the virus, but we had a few close calls. Another great difficulty imposed by Corona was the lack of social life which furthered the isolation, boredom, and depression my parents both felt and created yet another challenge for us to overcome.

So, what worked and what didn’t?

I’m gonna start with what didn’t work:

  • Carrying the burden alone, not asking for help.
  • Allowing myself to get to the point where I would lose my temper and fight with other family members.
  • Not looking for community and government resources earlier on.
  • Doing too many tests, x-rays, CT scans unnecessarily.
  • Waiting too long before hiring a nurse.

What worked:

  1. Looking for free or government-sponsored help and resources available in my country. Caring for an elderly loved one can be extremely expensive, and over time the expenses weigh heavier and heavier. Chances are, there is help in your country that you didn’t know about. Ask in hospitals and clinics, google and ask people who are in a similar situation. You will find something for sure.
  2. Shopping around for the services or products that you can’t get for free. Don’t just accept the prices that you are quoted by the first nursing company you come across. I posted an ad on Instagram and found an excellent nurse who charged a fraction of what I had been paying for a whole year. I also turned to Facebook groups, Whatsapp groups, friends, doctors among other resources to find more affordable services.
  3. Knowing thyself. Know and accept your limitations and boundaries. You are who you are and you cannot be everything to everyone. Do what you can and cut yourself some slack when there are things you can’t do or situations you can’t handle. Delegate to trustworthy professionals or family members. Give yourself breaks and be gentle with yourself. You are only human.
  4. Paying attention to your own health and well-being. Go to your doctor’s appointments, eat healthy, sleep, exercise and have your own social life. Seek medical help for yourself whenever you need to, especially if that means going to a psychiatrist and getting help for your own depression, anxiety, or insomnia.
  5. Turn to friends, family members, neighbors, Facebook groups, and the internet for help and support. I posted on a Facebook group that I was looking for women my mother’s age to befriend my mother and come visit her. I got an overwhelming response and made a lot of new friends. I also turned to youtube and found lots of videos made by people who were caring for their elderly parents. Their stories gave me hope and inspiration and in some cases made me feel how lucky I am. I’m so grateful to these strangers for sharing their stories.

In summary, caring for an elderly parent can be an extremely challenging experience. Get all the help you can get. Be nice to yourself and reach out to family, friends, and strangers alike, because you never know where the help will come from.

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