Virginia Morris Answers Viewer Questions on Caring For Elderly

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The second issue you raise is money. When it involves family, it's best to be very businesslike. If one person is paying for a relative's care out of pocket, then set up a plan for that person to be reimbursed, either immediately or through a will, if possible. This person should keep careful records and email regular reports about what he/she is spending on what. Finally, everyone needs to remember that an aging relative's money is, first, for his or her care. The primary goal is not to "protect" someone's inheritance.

Karen from Murfreesboro, Tenn.: When you have to take care of a person, how can you handle everything without being physically worn out every day? How are you to have any time left for yourself?

Ah, this is such an important question. The answer is so simple, and yet, so difficult.

Here it is: You can't handle everything, and you have to take time for yourself. We get so caught up in caring for loved ones, that we can't help but feel responsible for every minute of their day. But you have to step back and let go of some things, or this job will devour you. And the fact is, you will be of no use to anyone if you are exhausted, sick, depressed, irritable or resentful. I know it seems that you don't have time for yourself right now, but if you take care of yourself, you will be a kinder, more patient and more efficient caregiver. I promise.

So, take a deep breath. Think about what you do that is crucial and what you do that perhaps isn't as crucial. Then, as hard as it is, let some things go. Use local services and supports. Let others help. Accept that you cannot be there 24/7, and that things might not be perfect, things might not be done exactly as you would do them. But that's okay, because your best really is good enough.

Get away from it. Take breaks, see friends, get exercise, eat well, do something that recharges you. And let go.

Bobbi Jo from Palmer, Alaska: What about the stress and frustration that the child has with the parent? My mother has become a 5-year-old child, and I can hardly deal with it.

First of all, step back. Take time for yourself. Don't try to deal with a parent when you are annoyed and frustrated. If you are calm, your parent will also be calm (or calmer).

While she may seem like a five-year old, she is not five. Her behavior might be because she has lost so much – her youth, her friends, her job, her skills, her independence – and may face a relatively bleak and frightening future. She is scared and grieving. She's frustrated because she's feeble and confused, and dependent on you. She may be afraid of being abandoned, of pain, of death.

If she is irritable and makes unfair demands, don't engage, don't fight back. Gently remind her that she is safe, that you are there, and that you are not going to abandon her. For example, if she says, "You never visit me!" don't say, "Yes I do! I was just here two days ago!" Put your arm around her and say something like, "I know it's hard for you to be here alone, but I will be back on Friday, and you will be okay." Or, ask her about her fears, "What is it like when I'm not here? What worries you?" Either way, let her know that you hear her, and understand her fears and frustrations. But also, very calmly, make clear what you will do for her (which also makes clear what you won't do for her).

You are not alone it this! Best of luck.

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