Senior Center

Making the Decision to Become a Caregiver

By Jan Bolder - March 10, 2014

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Deciding to become a caregiver is usually borne of a desire to take as much of a hands-on approach as possible, either with the intention of thinking you can do it better yourself or because you want to strengthen the bond between yourself and your parents (or other seniors). It’s far from an easy decision or job, and there are some questions you should ask yourself before making the commitment.

Question 1: Do I Have the Time?

Being a caregiver is not a 9 to 5 office job where you can clock out at the end of the day and leave the work there, or take sick days and know someone else will cover you. It can be a full-time commitment, as seniors’ needs don’t schedule themselves according to what’s convenient for you. Emergencies will come and they’ll need to be dealt with on the spot--will you be able to tend to them?

Question 2: Do I Have My Own Safety Net?

It’s just about a guarantee that you’ll inevitably reach a point where the nature of caregiving will make you want to rip your hair out and scream, and you’ll need an outlet for that. It’s a tough job and aging or dying can become really ugly, and just having someone to talk to or spend time with can help. There are resources available for caregivers, but sometimes one’s own friends are the best medicine.

Question 3: Am I Ready to Help My Parents Die?

It’s one thing to have your parents or other loved seniors die--it’s a natural part of life--and while it may not be easy, it’s a totally different story from living it every day. This cartoon from the New Yorker gives a really touching, poignant and humorous look at a bit of what’s involved, and it’s not at all like how Hollywood portrays it.

Question 4: Do My Parents Have the Money and Documents in Order, and Can I Cover Things if They Don’t?

Teens and young adults can get by in some pretty questionable conditions (just ask a 20-something-year-old about their backpacking trip through Europe), but seniors require a much different approach. It’s not even about going with cable TV or a mattress that costs a couple hundred dollars less, but about medications, supplies, medical visits, physiotherapy, specialized nutrition, support staff, walkers/canes/wheelchairs/electric beds/electric lifts, gas for the car, insurance forms, monthly costs for a facility, and a reduced or lack of salary for committing the time. Sometimes, parents or seniors may have saved up for this and sometimes Medicare may chip in, but that’s no guarantee. And sometimes, as in the first question, emergencies come up that may require immediate financial attention--will that be in place?

Question 5: Am I Ready for Dementia?

At its best and rosiest, dementia consists of a faraway smile as the senior cheerfully forgets where they put their keys or who the senators are.

It rarely happens that way.

Instead, what dementia is like is more of the following: seniors forget who they are, they accuse you of being strangers out to hurt them, they move and walk less, you get called names or physically struck, they lose bowel control, they need to be bathed and fed and then tended to for almost everything, and they ask the same questions over and over and over again.

But then, out of the blue, they’ll also spark back to life and it’s like they never left. However, those good days eventually morph into good periods, and they become less and less frequent until they’re gone entirely. It’s a rough road, and it only becomes rougher.

While some adults are thrust into the role of caregivers, others choose to take it on for a number of reasons. If you fall into the latter, make sure you ask yourself these questions first before moving forward.