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Once Grown And Twice A Child

By Anonymous

Once grown and twice a child' was just a familiar saying until it hit my own family. Suddenly it took on a whole new meaning. The parent becomes the child and the child becomes the parent, often with little warning.

I find myself wondering when this happened. Have I just been responding to the increasing needs of my mother without noticing, or perhaps to avoid seeing, her faltering mental capacity? There was no stroke or medical problem that suddenly caused the change in her ability to handle things.

It is as if I woke one morning and suddenly my mother had become this frail and helpless elderly woman. The forceful, strong-willed individual whose authority I challenged over the years was replaced with a meek, submissive and anxious person who constantly needs my reassurance and approval.

I now hold the role of caregiver. A role that can be taxing to say the least. When raising children, there are times you question why you considered parenthood and others when you have no doubt. Young children will eventually learn to do what you tell them. Your parents will not learn - they have forgotten much of what they once learned.

There are dozens of agencies to provide information on how to and what to do for your elderly parent, but there is no magic potion to help ease the stress and frustration that often comes with the job. However, there are two very important skills a caregiver for the elderly must develop to handle the challenge - patience and humour.

Yes, skills. Anyone may have patience and a sense of humour, but when dealing with the elderly, especially your own parent, these qualities must be honed to a 'master's' skill level. Keeping this thought constantly in mind gives me the ability to assist my 85-year-old child with love and understanding rather than anger and tension.

It does no good to express the anger and aggravation you might feel from answering the same question or hearing the same story six times in thirty minutes. While your patience level may be severely strained by the fourth time, your parent is unaware of the repetition - each time is the first in their mind.

I resort to humour. In a joking manner I respond to my mother 'Okay, we've have this conversation before hot-shot - want me to write it down?'

Conversing with my mother has taken on the level of a game show. I call these our 'fill in the blank' conversations. Mysteriously, proper nouns have nearly disappeared from her language. All discussions are filled with he, her, she, him, etc.

Establishing the humour with your parent is important. You may not take a lot of what they say seriously, so don't let them take it seriously. Imagine yourself in their situation. Angrily snipping back would only cause a blow to an already fragile psyche.

Another challenge is medicine. At my age I already take six pills a day and have been know to forget a day's dosage, so I am not about to fuss at someone else for forgetting to take their medicine. But in the elderly mishandling of medicine can be dangerous.

There is no need to fuss or scold about medicine, missed-matched clothes, or why the morning cereal bowl is now kept in the canned goods cabinet along with the spoon (not always well washed). There is no benefit to anyone involved.

There is no need to point out to our parents what they have become, what they have lost, and what they will never regain. You can do more to help ease their sense of insecurity by laughing with them and helping them understand that it is okay. At this point in a parent's life they experience feelings of being a burden, useless to anyone, and worse, that their life is not worth living. The caregiver must make every effort to eradicate those feelings.

My mother is still a valuable person and she needs to be assured of this. She is still loveable and, ironically, much more laughable at this state of her life. She had been stern; now she is soft.

We have learned to laugh together at her new situation rather than bemoan it. In helping her to accept her situation, I have helped accept it myself. It has been a learning and healing experience.

I see in her what I may become one day - and I do not fear it.

Reprinted from the Caregiver Support site at Tulane University.

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