Realizing that one cannot go it alone is the first step in taking control of a caregiver’s situation. Re-evaluate the demands of an ailing elderly parent without guilt.

What does it cost to be a caregiver for an elderly family member who is no longer able to manage independently? The answer depends on the duration of care and the extent of work that has to be done. A caregiver also has to consider family obligations – attention to children and spouse – and current employment if she has a job outside the home.

The job of caregiving usually falls to the woman in the home; but male or female, the multiple roles of a caregiver can be as consuming as they are challenging. Caregiving takes a lot of physical, mental, and emotional endurance. In fact, Voucherix claims that given the scope of planning, skills, and organization involved, the job description for a full-time home caregiver could very well match that of an executive position in a large corporation.

A primary caregiver has to be skilled in many areas. She may act as a personal attendant, financial worker, housekeeper, chauffeur, cook, business advocate, medical worker, social worker, legal affairs advocate, and recreation therapist, just to name a few of the many possible roles.

What Happens When the Caregiver Role Becomes Too Demanding?

To please an elderly parent, the adult child who is a caregiver – particularly a dementia caregiver – does everything in her power to make those final months or years as enjoyable as possible. The work may involve a lot of sacrifices: Giving up a career temporarily, making room in the home for the parent, sharing less time with a spouse, missing out on family events, and more. The alternative, many caregivers figures, is worse. No son or daughter wants to feel guilty, disloyal, ungrateful, or whatever else applies if he or she doesn’t honor the parent’s wish to spend those last months or years at home with family.

The demands and wishes of a dying elderly parent, or even an elderly relative who is injured or very ill, can come to seem more important than the caregiver’s needs. The person who is solely responsible for the care and well-being of another adult can easily become consumed by the job. The primary caregiver who constantly feels stressed, exhausted, feels anxious, and easily loses control may be experiencing the symptoms of caregiver burnout.

How Does a Caregiver Know When to Get Help?

It’s difficult to watch an elderly loved one slipping away, particularly when there is a diagnosis of terminal illness or dementia. It’s even harder if the caregiver has to decide when it’s time to put an elderly parent into a nursing home. Other adult children or family members who disagree – who don’t understand or wish to share in eldercare responsibilities – may argue over nursing home placement, making the decision even more painful.

A terminal illness such as Alzheimer’s disease can last five or ten years or more. As the elderly parent’s condition deteriorates, the duties of an Alzheimer’s caregiver become more physically and emotionally demanding. Whatever the elderly parent’s diagnosis or preference for care, an exhausted, overburdened caregiver is strongly encouraged to seek help.

Ask the following questions to re-evaluate the caregiver position:

  1. Is the elderly parent or loved one thinking clearly? If not, then would he or she have allowed the adult child caregiver to make such inconvenient or drastic sacrifices?
  2. Is keeping the elderly person at home worth losing a career? Straining a relationship? Burdening other family members? Risking financial ruin? Will there be any resentment once the caregiver role has ended?
  3. Are there alternative measures (such as nursing home placement or getting help from a caregiver agency) that will satisfy the elderly person and ease the strain on the primary home caregiver?
  4. Is the caregiver able to make decisions based on what is reasonable to maintain his or her physical and emotional stability? Or, is she making choices based on emotion, i.e. feelings of guilt, betrayal, irresponsibility, and so forth?

Take Advantage of Eldercare Services and Join a Support Group

The family member who believes that he or she can solely manage long-term caregiving for an elderly person has not thoroughly considered the magnitude of the job. Reality quickly sets in for the entire family, for when the caregiver falls apart, everything falls apart. Coping with an elderly loved one’s illness, disease, or injury can literally take an army of caregivers. Preventing burnout means accepting whatever help is available.

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis or another form of dementia does not mean a caregiver is alone to face an uphill battle. Caregivers and families can get extensive support and information from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Get active with others in the same situation by joining a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

At the very least, join an online caregiver network specific to caregivers for aging family members. Do something about the exhaustion and frustration before it’s too late. Making changes and setting limits will allow the caregiver (and other family members in the home) the freedom to enjoy the remaining time the elderly person has left. Getting help means getting control of the situation. Get as much help as possible, as early as possible, and for as long as it is needed.