July 11th marks World Population Day – a day created to raise awareness of population issues. The UK population is increasingly living longer and recent research sadly suggests that by 2035 the aging population will be suffering from far more ill health in their later years. In light of this, thinking about caring for elderly relatives has never been more apt or timely.
While a longer life expectancy is positive for families and loved ones, statistics show that living longer doesn’t necessarily equate to a long healthy retirement and that in fact many elderly people are saddled with health conditions during old age. With the current concerns about underfunding and overcrowding within the NHS, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge the part families and communities play in caring for elderly relatives and friends.
Take breaks and make time for you
It’s important to remember if you’re caring for elderly disabled relatives that there is support available for both you and them. It’s important if you care for an elderly relative to take breaks where possible and not to feel guilty. Not only is it necessary for your wellbeing, but it will also help you feel refreshed when you are caring for a loved one.
Balancing caring with work and family
One of the biggest challenges many people face when caring for elderly relatives is balancing the need to support them with the demands of everyday life. Whether the person you’re caring for requires minor support such as help with food shopping once a week or they’re reliant on you for most aspects of their life, work and family can often be hard to balance with caring for elderly relatives.
It’s important to manage needs and expectations and prioritise. Outline any commitments you have in other areas of your life and find out what your loved ones most pressing needs are. It may be that lifeline support can help with certain aspects of caring, such as prompting a loved one to take medication or do a daily task, or a GPS tracker could give you peace of mind when they venture out unaccompanied.
Sharing is caring
Caring for elderly relatives can be made much easier by sharing the care requirements where possible. If you have brothers, sisters or other relatives who can help, there’s no shame in admitting that you’d appreciate it if others could share the load. Remember to discuss all aspects of the help required – it may be that while one sibling or relative can’t do mornings due to work or the school run, it may be they can help with socialising in the evenings or after school.
Practically, cooking and helping with washing and daily hygiene routines can be time consuming and difficult to fit in around other commitments. You can help to encourage (where possible) an elderly relative to take control of mealtimes by batch cooking food that can be frozen and then simply reheated where required. Make sure any items needed for cleaning are easy to reach and use if a loved one has mobility issues.
You may find if a loved one has been prone to falls or memory loss, they may lack confidence to do things that they are physically capable of doing for themselves. In this instance, caring for elderly relatives can be difficult as it’s hard to separate genuine need from anxiety. Undertaking daunting tasks with a loved one until they feel comfortable to do them alone can help.
Try to see things from their point of view too
We often acknowledge that caring for elderly relatives is difficult for the carer, but it’s easy to overlook the fact that it isn’t easy for parents or grandparents to accept their reduced independence. They may worry they are a burden, and may find it difficult to understand the role reversal. They may also feel embarrassed that they are no longer capable of doing daily tasks that many people take for granted. It can be hard to be understanding if you’re taking on the majority of the care, but it could just help your relationship with a loved one and make caring easier.