Caring for the Caregiver
Life turns full circle in many ways. This is especially true when you experience a full role reversal with your parent. The same people that spent time raising us will, eventually, need us to care for them as they age.
It is important for us to be prepared for when this happens and know how to best support our parents, both emotionally and physically, as they age. Having been in this situation, I know first hand how important it is to think about these things in advance and plan ahead.
My mother, who has always been a caregiver by profession and in life, is now living with chronic pain. For years, she worked as a hospital nurse and, later, as a home-care nurse caring for the elderly.
During this time, she spent years lifting patients in and out of bathtubs, beds and from their wheelchairs. Their needs were always put above her own. I still remember as a child, my mom leaving the house late at night – outside of her shift hours – to check on patients or to tend to their calls when they needed extra support. She truly took on her patients as part of our family. She felt a responsibility for their well-being. Being a nurse and a caregiver was more than just a job for her – it was a passion.
Unfortunately, years of lifting have taken a toll on my mother’s body. She now has nerve damage through her spinal cord and herniated disks in her back, making lifting impossible.
The herniated disks have left my mom with permanent damage and chronic pain that she experiences daily.
Instead of being offered natural pain management services and alternative medicines, my mother was put on highly-addictive pain medications. These potent pharmaceuticals have a plethora of side effects, like confusion, drowsiness, and gut issues causing nausea. Despite the side effects, her body has come to depend on these medications as her only source of relief.
My mom, who has spent the greater portion of her life caring for others, was not properly taken care of herself when she needed it most.
She trusted the medical system that she had been a part of, herself, for so many years.
But without addressing her as a whole person and offering more natural, safe and sustainable solutions, my family and I feel that the conventional medical system has failed her.
Like so many others in her condition, she was given a “quick fix” solution. To deal with the side effects on one pill, she is now forced to take multiple pills a day with no sense of support or guidance on how to build back her strength or how to live a lifestyle that would prevent her condition from getting worse over time.
Witnessing my mother fall through the holes in the system and seeing how quickly she was prescribed powerful and addictive medication with no additional support left me feeling angry and disappointed. I couldn’t just sit by and watch her suffer. It broke my heart to see her without enough energy or strength to be able to enjoy time with her grandchildren. It was difficult to witness this dependency on her pills, knowing that if her medication was missed, she would suffer in pain and fear the side effects of withdrawal.
My frustration led me to action. I knew, needed to give my mom support and guidance to help her take back control of her health.
Having had my own pivotal experience with naturopathy and experiencing the positive effects of adopting a more active and holistic lifestyle, I encouraged my mother to consider some of the things that had worked for me. I read lots of books on natural and alternative approaches to pain management and ageing and bit by bit we worked together to cater her health care to her individual needs.
I’m happy to share some of the things that really worked for my mom and hope it’s helpful if you happen to be dealing with caring for your own caregiver.
Caring for ageing parents
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your parents feel supported, safe and understood. We must help them both look for short term solutions, while also looking for ways to build a sustainable lifestyle and schedule that will keep them on track to prevent future issues.
It’s important for us to identify foods and ingredients that will supply our ageing parents with the proper nutrition that they require for their individual needs. Try suggesting foods that are high in nutrients, low in processed ingredients and easy to digest like smoothies, soups or steamed vegetables. Gently educate your parents on why it’s important for them to consume these vitamin-rich foods.
For me, inviting my mom for family meals and, casually, mentioning why I was cooking with certain foods or ingredients helped educate in a compassionate and non-judgemental way.
Instead of feeling pressured, she felt inspired to try it at home and learn more about the health benefits on her own time.
Vitamins & Supplements
In many cases, our parents are set in their ways and not necessarily willing to switch up their mealtime preparation or work with new ingredients as it can seem daunting and like extra work. In this case, making sure they have access to good quality vitamins and supplements is key. Try encouraging your parents to work powdered or liquid supplements into a daily shake or smoothie.
Since I’ve introduced collagen to my mom’s diet, she loves adding it to her smoothies. This can help provide benefits such as healthier skin, joint pain relief, bone loss prevention and muscle mass boost.
She has expressed that she feels stronger since using powdered collagen on a daily basis.
I’ve also suggested that she incorporate turmeric into her diet. She does this by mixing it into her smoothies and by enjoying golden turmeric lattes. Since she’s been using turmeric regularly, she says she has felt some relief from the inflammation that would plague her after a long day.
As our parents age, it is important they remain physically active. By keeping themselves strong and limber, they can help prevent injuries down the road. A more active lifestyle can also help alleviate pain caused by any current condition. Encourage your parents to take up walking, pilates, chi-gong or yoga or find an active hobby like yard work. These types of activities become much easier and much more appealing if you’re able to join them. Of course – every individual has different limitations, so make sure they are choosing daily exercise/activity that is right for them.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, but calling to check in on, or visiting our parents as frequently as possible can really help with their emotional needs. Make sure you take the time to ask them questions about their day, listen to how they are feeling, and offer your support where needed. Emotional support can play a big role in one’s overall health and wellness. This can be even more important if isolation and loneliness are factors.
It’s important to help keep your parent’s mind sharp at any age. This can be done by encouraging your parent to find a hobby or mentally-stimulating game that they will enjoy daily. My mom loves playing cards and doing crossword puzzles. She also loves taking care of her pets and teaching them new tricks. This keeps her sharp and active on a daily basis.
Try encouraging your parents to choose activities that use multiple senses – things like cooking, baking or gardening will help stimulate different senses and keep your parents active at the same time.
Complete care works
Over the years of caring for my own mother, I’ve found that she has grown stronger, both emotionally and physically. She continuously gives me updates on how incorporating holistic changes to her life has positively impacted her pain levels and energy levels. I have seen her grow more confident and more in control of her life with pain and I’m very proud that I’ve been able to support her during this process.
Thanks, Mom, for being my inspiration and opening my eyes to what complete care needs to look like.