In recent years both Annabel and I, like so many of our generation, have faced the consequences of caring for elderly relatives. In my coaching practice, I talk to women almost every day who are trying to navigate the complexities of this experience. Many of them – like me – have cared for, or are caring for, parents with dementia. It’s such a common, and complex, problem I wanted to write down some thoughts and ask you, if you’d like, to share your experiences in the comments below.
How do we prepare?
We talk so little about caring for elderly relatives, and the unexpected burdens and stresses that can bring. I suppose those of us who become parents ourselves aren’t very well prepared for that either, but at least we have a general idea of how it’s going to work. We know that we’ll have to feed our child, teach them to walk and talk, navigate school runs, teenage tantrums and eventual nest emptying. Of course, there are as many different ways to do this as there are children, but there are some constants.
With caring for parents, it’s almost impossible to prepare. We have no idea what’s coming and when. One friend spent the whole festive period ferrying his dad in and out of hospital after a series of falls. Another had to have an elderly family member sectioned on Christmas Eve. Yet another had to up-sticks and move in with her mother, who’d been independent for decades, after a fractured hip left her bedbound. How do you prepare for that?
There’s no handbook
One of the biggest issues for me when my mum was diagnosed with dementia (almost 20 years ago now) was actually knowing what to do. There were no handbooks, no guidelines. At the time I could have read a hundred books on how to get my new-born daughter to sleep better, but not a single one on caring for a loved one with dementia. I know things have changed since then and there are some great books, support groups and social media feeds on being a carer. The website Being Patient has some great resources and support for carers of those with Alzheimer’s. But is there enough out there? And with so many different scenarios to manage, it’s almost impossible to predict how caring will play out for each of us.
Ageing well ourselves
One in five people aged 50-64 in the UK is a carer to an older family member. And there’s been a 35% increase in those aged 75 and over in the UK since the start of this millennium. With people living longer than ever before, what’s the impact on the health of the next generation going to be? Is caring impacting our own ability to age well?
While I was in the midst of caring for my mother, of course my ability to age well was impaired. I was horribly stressed trying to juggle my mother’s needs, a young family and a full-time job. I was left with very little time to look after my own health. But now my mother is no longer with us, I can look back and appreciate that the experience gave me resilience. Most importantly here, it’s also given me the motivation to do all I can to age well myself, and help others do the same with this blog and health coaching.
Caring for a parent is an opportunity to give back and show gratitude for the care we were shown ourselves. The alternative is shattering in a different way: Annabel and I both lost our fathers to sudden and unexpected heart attacks. For Annabel the loss was recent, and she wrote movingly about it here, for me it happened over quarter of a century ago but I still grieve. Last weekend marked 100 years since my dad was born in the front room of his parents’ house in Kentish Town, north London. To mark the occasion, my daughters and I made a ‘pilgrimage’ to the place of his birth before retiring to a local pub for Sunday lunch. We looked through old photos and the family tree, it was all rather lovely. Very cathartic and highly recommended to help shift residual grief.
FREE BRAIN BOOST CLASS
As reducing dementia risk is so important to me, I’m doing a free Brain Booster class on Thursday January 19th at 10.00am GMT. I’ve rounded up some simple, do-able tips for preventing dementia and ageing well, based on the latest research. They’re all super-quick (and cheap!) and we can chat them through in this informal Zoom webinar.
The Zoom class will last around 45 minutes, and there will be lots of opportunity to ask questions. If you can’t make it live, then do register anyway and I’ll send you the link afterwards.