Mature Lifestyles in Delaware: Coping With Aging Parents
A guide to helping those who’ve always helped you.
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Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Staff members at most centers have heard and seen a lot already. They understand the pressures imposed by taking care of seniors, especially those with physical or mental disabilities. Some staff members have personally lived through the experience of caring for ailing seniors. Those who can dash into a phone booth, do a quick-change and emerge as a super-hero probably won’t need support to balance jobs, home, care-taking. Almost everybody else does.
Cindy Clark, the caregiver resource coordinator at The Modern Maturity Center in Dover, goes out of her way to meet with families who need a little help. “If you’ve had the actual experience yourself, you have a lot more patience,” she says. “It’s hard for someone who’s bogged down with family, jobs and an elderly relative to make six phone calls. I can do that for them.”
Don’t neglect yourself.
Most health experts stress the importance of maintaining balance in the caretaker’s life. Taking time to relax or to pursue hobbies—or to simply take a break from the daily routine—are necessary. Easier said than done sometimes, of course.
Penny Duncan, director of the Laurel Senior Center, says the most important thing is “keeping the joy in life.” Duncan is a good example of the maxim. She’s 67, has been with the center for 35 years, and has no plans for retirement. She’s seen the Laurel center grow to serve more than 500 members.
It’s important that the primary caregiver understands and records all information on medical issues. That may mean accompanying the senior on doctor visits and asking questions about his or her condition. It’s helpful to know about prescribed medications and their possible side effects.
Experts suggest that primary caregivers keep a written record so that everyone involved is aware of what’s happening.
One Laurel woman’s mother, who is 65 and visually impaired, was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. The new dialysis technique is a vast improvement over the old tied-to-a-machine-for-hours procedure. Since it’s a continuous process, there’s no build-up of toxins and life expectancy of patients is increased dramatically.
Just a note: Since the mother in this scenario has been depressed, her daughter bought her mother an iPod for Mother’s Day. For a woman who never used a computer before, her mother took to it immediately and loves it.
Resources for caregivers
• Find myriad pamphlets, books and videos for caregivers at libraries and senior centers.
• Support groups offer advice on dealing with practical problems.
• The Modern Maturity Center in Dover offers a “memory enhancement program” for persons with early memory loss.
• Some centers offer day care.
• Respite care is available, whether it’s part of the day-care program or arranged by providing in-home services.
Let’s end on a high note. One woman in Dover, almost 90, lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Fortunately, they’ve always had a loving, respectful relationship. The woman said she thinks of them as “Thelma and Louise” copycats. “We never sat still,” she says. “You can’t hit a moving target, can you? Just get in the car and go.”
There are difficulties, of course. “Whatever she does, I try to laugh,” she advises. “You can get through the problems if you remember the happy memories, the smiles, the laughs you had together.”
Sounds like a plan.
For more information on senior services in Delaware, contact the Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities at dhss.delaware.gov/dsaapd.