Question: My mother is very disabled from a stroke, and recently she had another stroke. I'm doing my best to care for her at home, but I also have a husband and three children, and I work full-time. My mother's mind hasn't been the same since her first stroke. She is often very confused and doesn't know where she is. I am trying to do what is best for my mother but I worry that I might be hurting everyone else – including myself! Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Amy: One of the hardest things about eldercare planning is that our decisions can have an impact not just on the person who needs care but on the entire family, including the caregiver. Often, in an attempt to provide excellent care for a family member, caregivers endure schedules and levels of stress that are hard to imagine.
One thing I often suggest is that caregivers take into consideration how decisions about caregiving will affect the entire family – not just the aging family member. Decisions that appear to be good for an aging family member but terrible for other members of the family almost always end up being bad decisions for everyone. That's because caregivers may burn out or may become resentful about continually sacrificing important time with the rest of the family in an attempt to maintain the quality of life of their aging relative.
How can you balance the needs of everyone—including yourself—when eldercare planning? One way is to write down the names of ALL of the people who will be affected by a decision. Then under each person's name, list the ways each person might be affected. If the picture doesn't look good, try other options and repeat the exercise until you reach a decision that works best.
Remember that this isn't about making perfect decisions. It's about making the best decision for the whole family in a difficult situation. Caregiving and eldercare planning really are a family affair, and all family members need to be considered as decisions and plans are made.
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