While in high school I watched my mom become the primary caregiver for an aging grandmother who had multiple serious health issues including Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and several strokes. Of course, 17-year-old me was oblivious to what an overwhelming challenge it was for mom to be the caretaker to my grandma while also being mom at home.

Now, years after grandma has past, mom is doing her second tour of duty helping to take care of her husband’s mother. While no one experience of caretaking is exactly the same, my mother has years of knowledge to share with any future caregiver.  I was able to sit down with her this week and ask real questions about what it is like to provide care to an aging parent.

QUESTION: When did you first realize that grandma needed help?

ANSWER: “The first time I noticed something was not quite right was when she went into the wrong house and kept asking the people in the home where I was. She eventually played it off as a silly mistake, but over the course of the next six months we began to see her become more and more confused. For mom it became clear that she was losing her cognitive ability to live independently much sooner than she lost her physical ability to live at home.”

QUESTION: What were some of the first steps you took to take care of grandma?

ANSWER: “Initially it was just a matter of checking on her more often, maybe 3-5 times a week. After about six months her condition worsened I realized that certain activities were not getting done such as paying bills, cleaning up around the house, grocery shopping, etc.

It wasn’t until later that her physical independence started to diminish. She became incontinent and that was a learning process to figure out how to help her deal with that and still manage to leave the house for doctors appointments, family gatherings, and other activities.”

QUESTION: What were some of your greatest challenges as primary caregiver to a parent?

ANSWER: “The hardest thing for me was finding a balance between helping mom live her life and doing things for her. I wanted her to do as much as she could because I knew her quality of life and self-worth would dramatically increase if she felt she was not a burden to her family.

“It also became a physical challenge for myself. The longer I cared for my mom the less mobile she became. It was hard for me physically to help mom in and out of her chair, bed, bathroom, and shower. I often needed help from my husband or my brothers to get mom to bed at nights.

“Watching my mom change was also a very hard pill to swallow. Its something I think any child goes through as their parents age.”

QUESTION: How did you find a balance between being a caregiver and a mom while still working your job?

ANSWER: “After those first six months I realized that I was no longer going to be able to do all three. Something had to give because I was spending 3-6 hours a day with mom. Fortunately, we were in a place that allowed me to quit my job and focus my energies on being a caregiver to my mom and children who were still at home. Even though I had quit my job, it was still imperative that I had help from my siblings who checked in on and helped mom when I was unable to.”

QUESTION: What do you wish you would have known at the beginning of the process that you know now?

ANSWER: “Certain preparations should be done long before your parent becomes physically or mentally incapable of taking care of themselves. I’m so glad we had talked to my mom about what she wanted to give to her kids and grandkids long before her memory faded as well as how to handle her finances if things got tight.

“One thing that we hadn’t thought of was the possibility that mom would be better off living with us if the time were to come. Now that we are taking care of my husband’s mother we have decided to move in with her even though she is currently physically capable of taking care of herself.

“Not everyone will have that option, so discussions around professional care or even care facilities should be had with your parent before issues arise.

“Prepare the home now to help prevent falls. Mom’s conditioned worsened every time she had a fall and we had no idea that there were so many products around that could help prevent physically and financially costly falls. 

“Finally, I think I wish I would have known what a large emotional toll the process would have on me. Eventually I learned that I needed an outlet and someone to talk with to relieve stress and worry that comes with caregiving. Whether it’s a sibling, spouse, friend or even a therapist I think any caregiver needs a way to relieve the burden they carry 24 hours a day.”

I was so glad that I had the opportunity to sit down with my mom and hear first hand about her experience as a caretaker. There were more takeaways than I can put in this one blog post which is why there are entire books written about this subject. Here are three things that I feel are of particular importance for current and future caregivers:

    1. Don’t wait to talk to your parents about the realities of aging and what type of care they wish to have. Talk to them about the financial, physical, and emotional impacts of caregiving and make plans that will be best for all involved.
    2. Work to prevent falls before they happen. Falls can seriously impact the way of life for any aging person. There are so many products and resources that will help mom or dad stay on their feet in their own home. 
    3. Prepare for the emotional toll it will take on you as a caregiver. Make sure you have help from siblings, friends, or your own children.

If you or someone you know is taking care of an aging parent please tell us what you are doing to make the experience better by commenting below or reaching out to us on social media using the hashtag #Caregiver.