Recently, the renowned Malayalam filmmaker and screenwriter, K G George, passed away in a retirement care home. Following his demise, his family, especially his wife, faced significant criticism and cyberattacks from fans and the media for not caring for him at home. He had suffered a stroke a couple of years earlier, and his family has stated that they meticulously researched and selected a retirement home with a strong reputation for specialized stroke patient care, with doctors readily available. Their primary aim was to ensure he received the best possible care, not abandonment. It is indeed saddening that the family had to endure this unexpected wave of societal judgment and criticism during such a painful time.
Taking care of elderly parents is a difficult and emotionally demanding task that isn't straightforward. It becomes even harder when you live far away because you may not be physically present to provide daily care. Most of my friends are currently dealing with similar challenges as our parents' generation is getting older, with most of them now over 65 years old. Even if the elderly person is healthy, catering to their needs can be challenging because mentally, they may still feel they can manage their lives as before, but their aging bodies may not agree, leading to a struggle.
Caring for a loved one, particularly as a primary caregiver, comes with significant challenges that can impact the caregiver's own life in various ways. Below are some of the experiences that me and my mom had to overcome when my father was critically ill. While each family's situation is unique, there are common challenges and issues that families often face. Although I'm not an expert, here are some of my thoughts on how to navigate these situations.
Emotional and Mental Well-Being: Witnessing a loved one's decline in health can be emotionally and mentally distressing, especially when you've known them as a strong person all your life. As caregivers, we may feel sadness, frustration, guilt, and anxiety, which can lead to burnout and mental health problems if not managed effectively. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize self-care, seek emotional support, practice stress-reduction techniques, and ensure that we take regular breaks to recharge and manage our well-being.
Physical Health: The physical demands of caregiving can take a toll on a caregiver's health. Lifting and assisting with mobility, managing medications, and providing personal care can be physically challenging, leading to exhaustion. Prioritize personal health by maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting enough rest. Seek assistance from others or professional caregivers for physically demanding tasks.
Gender Roles: In many Indian households, caregiving responsibilities are primarily shouldered by women, which can result in a disproportionate burden on female family members. It is important to involve other family members and encourage a fair distribution of household and caregiving duties.
Time Management: Caregiving responsibilities can be time-consuming, leaving us with little time for personal pursuits, work, or other family commitments. Develop a structured schedule that involves multiple family members or professional caregivers. Prioritize tasks and consider delegating responsibilities to others.
Career and Work-Life Balance: Many of us have to balance their caregiving responsibilities with full-time jobs, which can be physically and emotionally demanding. This can lead to burnout and a strained work-life balance. Communicate with employers about caregiving responsibilities and explore available workplace support, such as flexible work arrangements or employee assistance programs.
Lack of Respite Care: Adequate respite care options are often lacking in India, leaving us with little opportunity to take breaks and recharge. Therefore, it is important to seek help from friends and family members to provide respite care, or consider hiring a professional caregiver to provide temporary relief.
Social Isolation: The demands of caregiving can often lead to social isolation. We may find ourselves with limited time and energy to maintain social connections and engage in activities outside of the caregiving role. Make an effort to maintain social connections even if it means seeking support from friends and family to free up time for social activities.
Uncooperative Patients: Caring for a patient who is uncooperative or resistant to care presents significant challenges for the family. It is important to respect the patient's dignity and autonomy while offering choices whenever possible. Seek their preferences and consider making adjustments to the care routine.
Stigma Around Institutional Care: There is often a stigma associated with placing elderly family members in institutional care, such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities. This can make it challenging for family to explore alternative care options. Educate skeptical family members about the benefits and necessity of institutional care when it's in the best interest of the elderly person.
Financial Strain: Last but definitely not the least, caregiving can have financial implications, as it often requires hiring professional help, purchase of medical supplies, home modifications, or even reduced work hours or career interruptions to provide care. Seek financial advice to create a budget and explore available resources to manage caregiving-related expenses.