Karen Turner PHD | I Just Can’t Do It Anymore: Depression Associated with Caring For Elderly Parents
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I Just Can’t Do It Anymore: Depression Associated with Caring For Elderly Parents

I Just Can’t Do It Anymore: Depression Associated with Caring For Elderly Parents

Carol parked outside the two-door garage of her mother’s house noticing that the usually perfectly pristine lawn was now full of sprouting weeds and wilting begonias. She went through the unexpectedly unlocked door as she called out to her mother. As she walked into the kitchen she noticed her mother’s solitary figure hunched over a kitchen stool while the elderly woman stared out the skylight window.



“Mom didn’t you hear me calling you?” Carol asked as she stood in front of her mother. Ruth, a widowed, 70 year young mother of 3, grandmother of 7, retired high school teacher, avid gardener, international art film-buff and baker of the world’s best pumpkin pie blankly stared at her daughter. “Did you speak to your father about that prom dress you wanted?” Ruth finally whispered. “Yeah I did mom….yeah I did”, Carol resignedly said as she gently guided her mother to the living room couch.

It had started with a little spacing out, forgetting birthdays, appointments, and even town bake sale events that she had never missed. Then a couple of months ago, Ruth began talking about her husband whom she had lost 5 years ago to colon cancer, as if he were alive and somewhere in the house busying himself with some household task. Alzheimer’s disease became a legitimate suspicion when just last week Sue’s 18 year-old daughter found Nana sleeping on a park bench 20 miles away from her home.

This is the story of millions of Americans caring for elderly parents, having to suddenly become experts in home health care, medications, elder laws, hospital and nursing home regulations, all the while fighting personal feelings of anger, abandonment, guilt, depression, and disappointment.

A USA TODAY/ABC News/Gallup Poll of baby boomers reports that 41% of those with a living parent are providing financial and/or personal care and 8% of boomers say their parents have moved in with them.

The USA TODAY poll finds a significant portion of the boomers who are helping their parents report the responsibility as only a “minor sacrifice” or “no sacrifice at all”. However, the remaining boomers polled report deleterious personal physical and emotional health consequences, such as high blood pressure, that is nearly double the risk of their American peers who are not caring for an elder parent. Alarmingly, 91% of boomers who report worsened physical health due to caring for an elderly parent, also report debilitating depressive symptomatology.

cid_x_ma2_1226099397aol.jpgCaring for elderly parents can greatly threaten the physical and emotional health of caregivers and their families. The tasks caregivers face range from providing emotional support (such as frequent “checking in” telephone calls), to helping with the instrumental activities of daily living (such as transportation, shopping, housekeeping, meal preparation, and bill paying), to helping with personal care tasks (such as bathing and dressing). Care giving becomes all the more stressful when the elder parent is impaired by challenging emotional limitations such as dementia, as families must deal with impaired cognitive abilities, difficult behaviors, and the pain of personality changes in a loved one. If the elder’s behavior is embarrassing, the caregiver may become isolated and drop previously enjoyed activities. The caregiver can become so engrossed in caring for the elder parent that other family members, such as children and spouses are neglected. When caring for an elder exceeds the family’s capacity, it is not surprising that family members react with fear, anger, shame, doubt, and sadness. If the elder must ultimately be cared for in a nursing home, the caregiver must then deal with the nagging feelings of guilt and ambivalence over the decision not to mention the potentially devastating financial distress.

Before the boomer reaches the point of “I just can’t take it anymore”, just like the support they provide for their aging parents, caregivers, need to seek support for themselves. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help (emotional or financial) from other family members, neighbors, church members and other support groups. Becoming a parent to your parent can be a difficult and painful process but also one that can be quite reparative in that it presents an opportunity to work through old wounds, close intergenerational misunderstandings, and bring a new found family closeness.

Want to learn more helpful tips or have a personal elder caregiving experience you’d like to share? Come join www.boomeryearbook.com and connect with other boomers. We understand.

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