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How caregiving sneaks up on adult children

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Today, many caregivers can feel swamped about aging parents' needs. If you get caught in the "sneak-up factor," it may be time to readjust your caregiving priorities.

What Happened to My Life?

My mother had her second hip replacement surgery when my dad was already in a nursing home, the same home as my uncle. Until that time, I was taking my mother, daily, to see my dad who'd had brain surgery that had backfired, as well as my uncle who'd had a series of strokes. We were fortunate that an excellent nursing home was just blocks away from my home and near my mother's apartment and my mother-in-law's condo.

At the time, I was helping my mother each day with her shower and other morning routines, getting my sons to school, going back to my mother's and taking her to the nursing home to visit, running over to my mother-in-law's apartment to make her lunch and visit with her, going back to the nursing home to visit my dad and uncle and take my mother back home, then going to get the kids at school. My youngest son also had many health issues, so that also complicated my caregiving schedule.

After Mom's surgery and recovery I thought things would go back to that 'normal' routine. However, she didn't recover well and continued to need more and more care. Seven days a week, seven hours a day, I ran from place to place to help all of these people.

This went on, in varying degrees, for years.

Constant Caregiving: What Happened?

My situation is not that different from that of many caregivers.

You start out caring for a parent or other loved one because they need a little help. Maybe they can't drive anymore so you get their groceries. Or you accompany them on doctor visits. Or you help them with their recovery from surgery, expecting then to get on with your life. Only, somehow your life never quite gets back normal.

Okay, you can handle that. However, the care needs typically grow exponentially.

When Dad has a stroke, not only does Dad need more care, but now Mom needs help getting that care for Dad, and her health may become more fragile because of the stress. You are the one in town. Your siblings check in now and then, but hey, you seem to be handling everything so well. Mom and Dad sound great when they talk to them on the phone, so just keep doing what you're doing. So, you get a verbal pat on the back (if you are lucky) and you continue coping with the snowballing needs of your elders.

Then one day you stop to realize you haven't seen a friend for coffee for months. You've skipped your physical, since there wasn't time to fit it in. You haven't golfed, gone for a run, or even taken a walk in the park for eons. And your spouse and kids barely recognize you.

The Sneak-Up Factor

What happened is what I call the 'sneak-up factor.' You are so busy tending to everyone else's needs you haven't even thought about your own. That would be selfish, right?


It's time to stop and take an inventory of your life. It's time to decide in what ways you need help with the caregiving duties and how to get that help. It's time to ask siblings for assistance in specific ways. Perhaps, it's time to look at some in-home care agencies for your parents.

It's time for you to get reacquainted with your own life, while you also readjust to becoming a caregiver, but not a caregiver who is so consumed with elder care that your own health and the welfare of your core family suffers.

Be aware, early on, of the very real dangers of caregiver stress and caregiver burnout. Don't let caregiving take over your entire life. Your care receivers may note your stress and suffer for it, and your own health may suffer as well. Tend to emergencies, yes. However, take time on a regular basis to reassess where you are with your caregiving job--yes, it's a job. If it has taken over your life, you should take steps to get your life back.

Caregiving can be a wonderful, though often stressful, part of your life. But it shouldn't be your entire life. Recruit help, even paid help, to get your life back.