Thanks to the rapid advances in the field of medicine, more and more people live to a ripe old age, it is increasingly likely that you will be taking care of older relatives at home. While this has always been a traditional practice in the joint Indian family, caregiving can prove to be quite a burden in Mumbai, where most of us lived in small cramped flats, and space is at a premium.
While many people think of caregiving as a burden, in reality entering into a caregiving relationship offers a valuable chance to reconnect with someone for whom you care deeply. And don't forget that you'll be setting an example for your children, so that when it's time for them to take care of you when you become old, they'll do a good job too.
Taking care of the elderly as they become more infirm and demanding with each passing day can create a lot of stress. If you're trying to shoulder the burden all alone, the frustrations may overwhelm you. An amicable situation can turn sour and, in some cases, mistreatment or abuse of the older person could be the tragic result. As testimony to this disquieting but indisputable reality, the media is reporting more and more cases of abuse and neglect of the elderly in India. Many parents have even been forced to commit suicide when they have got fed up of the ill-treatment they have received.
To sidestep an unpleasant situation and to ensure that you handle caregiving as successfully as possible, you should go in for a little thought, education and preplanning.
To start with, hold a family session when your parents are well. Talk about the future, and what they would like you to do for them in case they fall stick. Involve your brothers and sisters in the discussion and hold it in a positive atmosphere. Although talking about old age and impending debility can be uncomfortable, and disconcerting, this could be the most positive approach in the long run.
Consider covering the following areas:
* Division of labour: Decide who will do what - in an unambiguous manner - when your parents need help. If one relative lives close by and decides to be the primary caregiver, it's crucial that the other siblings play a supportive role. One should also find answers to the following important queries: Who will give the primary caregiver a break when he or she needs it? Who will help financially? Who will lend a sympathetic ear when the primary caregiver feels overwhelmed?
* Money: To plan for the years ahead, you should know your parents' financial resources. Such information helps you avoid the pitfalls of arranging for your parents to live beyond or below their means. If you're the main caregiver, decide well ahead of time if you want financial compensation for your efforts. This attitude might seem very commercial , but may actually help in the long run.
* Insurance: Make sure your parents have taken adequate medical insurance to cover their medical expenses.
* Living will: This document puts into writing what medical measures your family member does and doesn't want to be taken in the event of a terminal illness or condition.
* Power of attorney: This legal document allows a designated person to make specified legal and financial decisions if your parent or elderly relative becomes unable to manage his or her affairs.
Try to make your caregiving relationship as positive as possible, while, at the same time, being realistic. The relationship you had with your parent as a child doesn't disappear, and if you had a friendly, easygoing rapport with your mother or father when you were younger, it's likely to continue. However, if the relationship was subject to stresses, they may re-emerge. Also remember that prominent personality traits tend to become exaggerated as both of you grow older.
Caring for an older adult is very different from caring for a child. With the passage of time older persons become more dependent on others, not less. On some days, the experience may feel like an emotional roller-coaster ride: you quickly move from pity and guilt to love and on to anger and frustration.
By Dr Aniruddha Malpani
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