Caring for the Caregiver


September/October 2007


As advanced medical technologies stretch out life spans, more and more family members, particularly women in their forties, fifties, and sixties, are finding themselves caring for fragile, elderly parents. The resources to support what can often be a marathon effort of ongoing care are more difficult to locate than one might expect, given that 50 million Americans now serve as family caregivers. Here are some practical suggestions therapists can make to help clients get their feet under them while they develop strategies to deal with the long-term care of a parent.

*Find somewhere to vent. Honored as your clients may be to help out, this work takes its toll. Long-term caregivers struggle with anger and guilt, and are unusually vulnerable to insomnia, depression, anxiety, neck and back pain, and even illness and premature death. Encourage them to vent to a friend, partner, therapist, electronic bulletin board, or formal support group, such as those run by the local Alzheimers Association (1-800-272-3900 or www.Alz.org) or Family Caregiver Alliance (www.Caregiver.org).

*Acknowledge past wounds. Was your client the family's irresponsible black sheep, its peacemaker, or its heroic, uncomplaining firstborn? Did he or she feel slighted in favor of another sibling? If clients paper over old emotional realities, they may find themselves reverting to roles they thought they'd outgrown. Point out that taking care of an elderly parent…

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