, Gloucester, MA

November 28, 2012

Dealing with the stress of aging parents

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — It is a life event you probably never believed would really happen: the time for a parent to be institutionalized. If you thought about your parents aging at all, you probably assumed they would be healthy until the day they died. Instead, you have watched with dismay as your father or mother has grown sick, frail, unsteady and, in some cases, confused.

You have probably exercised every option before deciding to place your parent in a nursing home. You have checked on him (or her) every day. You have bought groceries and cooked meals. You have driven him to multiple doctor’s appointments, arranged for and picked up prescriptions. You have enlisted in-home health aides who visit a few times per week.

Now, these efforts are no longer enough. So, you need to do what is best for him, and you realize that means placing him in a nursing facility. The stress of that decision, and the resulting difficult and overwhelming process can literally cause you to be ill.

First, there is the guilt. You may feel that you should take your parent into your home and care for him yourself. You experience these feelings even though your family may be overcrowded in your home, and you have a full-time job that would prevent you from giving the necessary daily care. The conflict between the feeling of “I should” and the reality that “I can’t” eat away at you emotionally.

Then, once the decision is made, you need to deal with choosing the proper nursing home facility. Which is best? Does he belong in “assisted living” or “personal care”? Is this a quality facility where he will receive all the professional care he will need? After hearing horror stories about nursing homes, how can I be certain the staff will really care about him and treat him with dignity? In addition to health care issues, you will need to address financial ones. What can your parent afford? What happens if he has few assets? What if the funds dwindle? Will he have to sell his home?

You are making important, impactful, long-term decisions concerning end-of-life issues for someone you love, which is enormously stressful on practical, financial and emotional levels. And, most probably, the deep, emotionally wrenching issue is your parent’s anger and sadness. He blames you for being forced to leave his home.

How can you manage the stress and overwhelming challenges of this unavoidable life crisis, and where do you start?

First: Get as much information as possible from the experiences of friends and family members, and contact social services resources. These organizations will provide information about support groups for caregivers and choosing nursing or other facilities: Children of Aging Parents (CAPS) — in Massachusetts the number is 1-800-227-7294; the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs; AARP (American Association of Retired Persons); National Family Caregivers Association; and Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116.

You may want to start by contacting your local Council On Aging: in Gloucester at the Rose Baker Senior Center, 978-281-9765; at the Rockport Senior Center, 978-546-2573; in Manchester at 978-526-7500; and Essex at 978-768-7932.

Second: Insist that siblings and other family members take some responsibility. Share the information gathering, get help to look at legal issues involved, have family discussions about all the options, and emphasize that all decisions are family decisions. No one can maintain his or her emotional health in this situation without getting support, especially from family members. Avail yourself of all the caregiver resources that have been created to help you through this major life event.

Third: You must take care of yourself — physically, mentally and emotionally. In some instances, you may want to enlist the support of professionals. Especially important is self talk. Be kind to yourself with reminders: “I am doing the best I can under the circumstances.” “Although this process is painful, I know I am doing what is necessary and best for my parent.”

While this is one of the most difficult life events you may have to deal with, the positive here is that today, because of our aging population, there are more agencies, resources and avenues for support than ever before. Take full advantage of them, they were created for you.

Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.