Q & A

January 01, 2015

Caregiving for an elderly person who struggles with an illness or depression takes a toll on the caregivers. Remember, caregivers need care, too. These suggestions will help you provide effective and compassionate service and support to your elder, while maintaining your own physical and mental health.

Q: Caring for elders in addition to other life responsibilities is stressful. How can caregivers deal with stress?

A: Caregiving can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind, eventually leading to burnout. How does one practice healthy caregiving?

  • Ask for help. Do not try to do everything yourself, which is a sure path to stress and burnout. Spread out the responsibility.
  • Give yourself a break, grant permission to take care of yourself. Get enough rest. Try to do something that you enjoy, every day, for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Practice acceptance. Everyone has a limit. Accepting that you need time off doesn’t make you a selfish person. Looking after yourself ultimately benefits the person you’re helping.
  • Focus on what you can do, not on what can’t be done. Sometimes you cannot help feeling bad about the situation you’re in. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, stay positive and focus on the way you choose to react to problems.
  • Take care of your health. Don’t skip medical appointments, eat healthily, and exercise regularly.

Q: My 70-year-old aunt has arthritis with wrist pain and is in a wheelchair. Can you recommend some ways to arrange her home environment?

A: When designing the home environment for an elder with wrist pain, focus on basic actions that require wrist twisting, turning, pushing, and pulling such as turning doorknobs, opening and closing drawers, and twisting faucets. These benign activities can become painful, impossible tasks to elders. Consider installing easy to use doorknobs and swivel faucets that don’t require twisting.

Ease of access is a must for physically challenged elders, whether being able to walk or being in a wheelchair. Improve accessibility with wide doorways (at least 90 centimeters). Clear areas so a wheelchair is able to pass through easily. Sliding doors take up less room. Doorframes should be at least one meter wide. Outside access to the home and the inside should ideally have no steps or stairways unless there are elevators or ramps.

Reduce the risk of falls and leg and foot injuries with uncluttered floor plans. You might want to remove unnecessary items that create tripping hazards. To accommodate functional living needs and wheelchair mobility, choose wheeled cabinets and furniture that you can move quickly and easily.

Q: How can I help my depressed mother who resists my help?

A: Helping a depressed person requires a deep understanding. He or she may need to seek professional help. But getting a depressed person into treatment can be difficult when the negative ways of thinking lead him or her to believe that life is hopeless. Family members giving emotional support to the depressed person makes a big difference. Better Health recommends that you:

  • Do not try to “change” the depressed person. Be a good listener, ready to offer support with unconditional understanding. Patience and care are key.
  • Encourage and support without showing any annoyance or frustration.
  • Stay positive, with both positive words and positive actions, to inspire the person to see a brighter side of life.
  • Encourage participation in activities. Invite the person to join you in uplifting activities. Be gently persistent if they decline.
  • Have realistic expectations. Even with optimal treatment, recovering from depression doesn’t happen overnight.

If your loved one happens to be less anxious with you around, maybe you can be the one to suggest getting a check-up, so the doctor can rule out any medical causes of the depression. Refer your loved one to a mental health professional. Your unconditional support throughout treatment will be a stabilizing force for the person to get better.

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