Every task in our lives with value carries with it some inherent challenges and problems. As students, we had the dreaded homework. If we chose to participate in sports, we had to practice, even when we did not wish to. As parents, we had those days when we really wished we had decided not to have children. If we did not do our homework, skipped practice, or took a break away from our children, we felt guilty. Guilt seemed to move on with us as the situation changed.
Taking care of an elderly person, whether they are a parent, a friend, or someone for whom we have assumed responsibility is a valuable life experience. And, just as with any other experience with value, there are challenges and difficulties. Our responses to the daily activities we engage in as we provide for elder care needs can breed that old, familiar feeling of guilt. It helps if we recognize the reasons for elder guilt and accept them as normal.
Everyone has difficult days, and this is especially true for the elderly, who have aches and pains, may be lonely, or suffer from memory loss or confusion. Dealing with changing needs and moods can be difficult and, no matter how hard we try to stay positive, resentment can creep in and then we feel guilt. Such feelings are normal. Here are three ways you can deal with elder guilt:
- Be honest about your feelings. If you admit to them, that is the first step in moving on. It may help to discuss your feelings honestly with someone else involved in elder care.
- Take a break. Just as with child-rearing, sport practice, and homework, some time away from what is causing the stress and resultant guilt can help allay those feelings. You may only be able to step into the kitchen to retrieve a cool drink of water, but when you get there, take a deep breath and relax, then return.
- Learn to deal realistically with expectations – yours and the person for whom you are caring. You cannot meet every need and requirement for care, no matter how hard you try. Be happy with doing your best. Also, realize that some desires expressed by the elder in your care simply cannot be met. If they wish to eat something prohibited by their doctor that is a need you cannot meet. Be content to do what you can to keep the person in your care as healthy and comfortable as possible.
Elder care is a valuable life experience. However, there are days when everything feels overwhelming and we may not be proud of our response. When elder guilt sets in, admitting honestly to the feeling, taking a break, and realistically dealing with daily challenges and problems, can help those moments pass and make our elder care experience even more rewarding.