Jody Gastfriend, LICSW
VP Senior Care Services, Care.com
Editor’s note: 50plusnorthwest.com is proud to present our comprehensive guide to caregiving services. How to provide home care for a loved one is a major concern for both boomers and seniors. We hope to answer some of your most pressing questions with this ongoing series. Please check back regularly for updates.
About the Author
Senior Care Expert Jody Gastfriend, VP of Senior Care Services, Care.com, is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience in the field of eldercare.
Jody’s broad range of leadership positions include Director of the Department of Social Services and Case Management at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Clinical Supervisor within the Social Service Department of Massachusetts General Hospital, Chief Operating Officer of a Medicare-certified visiting nurse association, and Director of Adult Care Services at a national backup care company where she established a successful and expansive eldercare division serving more than 130,000 employees.
Jody shares the personal journey of her clients, having helped manage the care of her own parent with dementia for more than a decade. She has consulted to individuals, professional societies and corporations in the field of eldercare. Additionally, Jody has lectured widely on topics related to aging and work/family balance to audiences that include family caregivers, HR administrators, health care professionals and policymakers. A featured senior care expert on NBC and Fox News, Jody is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post’s Huff/Post50 section, and has published numerous articles on caregiving and aging, including a 5-part series in USA Today.
Jody received her BA, Magna Cum Laude, from Tufts University, and her Masters Degree in Social Work from Simmons College School of Social Work.
Part 3: Finding the Strength to Care – Advice for Adjusting to Your New Role
By Jody Gastfriend, LICSW
VP Senior Care Services, Care.com
Life inevitably throws us unexpected twists and turns, and for those who find themselves suddenly caring for an aging parent or grandparent, it can be particularly trying.
Caregiving is a lot to handle on top of busy work and family schedules. It takes a strong individual to accept the role and find a successful balance. As a family caregiver, you may find yourself facing a host of new responsibilities, many of which are unfamiliar or intimidating. At times, you may feel overwhelmed and alone. Previously, I have shared the signs that your parent’s health may be declining, then provided advice on how to put a care plan in place. Now comes the acceptance of your new life – the new “normal.”
Earlier this year my dad turned 86. He had been doing quite well in the nursing home where he had lived for four years. His dementia wasn’t getting any worse and his mood was mostly cheerful and content. But a few weeks later, I got a call that Dad was in the hospital following chest pains. My husband, three children and I dropped everything and made the two hour trip to Western Massachusetts, where Dad was in intensive care. He had just had a heart attack.
The next two weeks were a whirlwind of good and bad news (mostly bad). Initially Dad’s health improved and he was discharged back to the nursing home. Less than a week later he was readmitted for nausea and vomiting. Then my mom got the flu. Then Dad’s medications somehow got mixed up and he didn’t get his new heart medicine. Then his blood pressure shot up. Days later it stabilized but the blood thinner levels were off. And so it went.
We’ve been down this road before, as have many other seniors’ children and grandchildren. If you’re going through something like this, you’re not alone. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about coping with the new normal of caregiving:
- Expect the unexpected. Just when you think you know the prognosis, the routine, the choices—something you couldn’t have anticipated happens. Find ways to respond, and keep moving.
- Never say never. Don’t promise Mom that you will never put her in a nursing home. It may be the safest and best option one day.
- It’s OK and “normal” to get angry and frustrated. You need to find a safe outlet to express negative, pent up feelings. Talk to a friend, join a support group or get professional help.
- Get on the same page with your siblings. Forget that your sister’s college tuition was paid by Mom and Dad while you were saddled with student loans. Focus on how to plan for Dad’s care. Let go of the old hurts (or put them in a box for another time if you can’t totally let go).
- Communicate with your children. In an age-appropriate way, tell them what’s happening with Grandma or Grandpa. Let them know that you need their understanding, and find ways to include them in the caregiving responsibilities.
- Put yourself on the “to do” list. Don’t ignore your body’s messages. Headaches, insomnia, moodiness, weight gain (or loss) can be subtle messages that it is time to take better care of your own needs.
During the time your loved one does require your care and intervention, it’s important to stay grounded in the present. This means staying positive. And I know that can seem unfathomable at times. You will have “moments,” we all do. But afterwards, take another “moment” to try to learn something about why this particular experience became so frustrating, stressful or overwhelming – and change your mind set for the next time around. The most frustrating thing about this journey (and it is a journey) is that you can’t do anything about your parent’s aging process; you can only change your approach.
So whether you are currently a caregiver or are just starting out, the first step is to truly feel that this state of caregiving is an opportunity, and not a burden. Yes, you might be remote. Yes, you should hire helpers and call in reinforcements (housekeepers, transportation help, food prep, safety monitors, in-home care, sibling and neighborly assistance). And you should be giving yourself “respite” breaks as often as possible so that your life and your job remain in balance, as much as possible.
So what’s the opportunity? Find the joy that caring for a parent can bring, even if it’s just small moments of closeness. And forgiveness. And shared memories. It might even help you see life in a whole new way.