If you're like me, you thought taking care of your aging loved one would be much like caring for your children. I had raised 6 children and thought, "How hard could it be?" I couldn't have been more wrong.
Child care and long-term adult care are two very different species.
Children are a central focus of most social groups, and for many of us, sharing information about the “stages,” problems, joys and stresses of childhood and adolescence with our friends (and even strangers) is a common experience. If we're in doubt about a child’s behavior, we can tune in to Dr. Phil or pick up a favorite magazine or self-help book.
Where do you turn when you can't figure out why your older sister is so confused? And, have you already noticed that few friends want to discuss your mother's Alzheimer's or your husband's Parkinson's disease?
When you have small children, family members often can't wait to babysit, or help out in some way, can they? Your parents relish the opportunity to enjoy the kids, rekindling the warmth and love that sustained them while they raised you and your siblings. Your brothers and sisters get involved, too—playing ball enthusiastically or going on outings together. Looking after littles ones isn't only emotionally satisfying and fun, but it allows us to be playful and feel “young again.” We may even be able to relive our own childhoods, if only for a few, fleeting moments.
By no stretch of the imagination can we say that long-term adult care is “fun,” nor can you simply turn over caregiving to peripheral relatives, casual friends or helpful neighbors. The demands of care are frequently too exacting or difficult. Your grandmother needs assistance using the toilet, while your grandfather needs help with the morning routine of washing, dressing, shaving and hair combing. Both require medications to be dispensed at different intervals. And, talk about complicated when you add dementia and depression into the mix.
Healthy children follow an upward track: growth and development over time is inspiring to behold. Each of our children has his or her own special destiny, and we strive to promote the best attributes of our offspring: first steps, first words, first day of school, graduation and good job. We can look look forward to our children marrying and having families of their own. Typically, we know what to expect.
None of these positive conditions prevail for long-term adult care or for parents whose children have terminal illnesses. Here, the spiral slopes downward and out. Sadly, it's only a matter of time before your loved one is gone.
You know where the road ends for him or her. But I'm here to tell you that there is much for you to gain along this journey we call caregiving.