New book discusses elder care

Increasingly more families are assuming caregiving responsibilities as they keep their aging relatives at home. Although this experience can prove stressful, it definitely has its positive aspects. How could it not when it offers people a chance to develop talents they never thought they had?

Perhaps you thought boiling water was more than you could manage, but as a caregiver, you learn to cook nutritious meals. Housekeeping might never have been your thing. But as you work to make your elder comfortable in her home, you might discover that you can be more fastidious you thought. In addition, you might even find you are feeling better about yourself.

Possibly, the greatest challenge caregivers face is one that has nothing to do with housekeeping or other mundane matters. They must learn how to wear a "mask."

Often, a caregiver must learn not to look even the least bit askance as an elder chirps, “I know you are my sister” when she is actually her daughter. Because comments, such as “That's ridiculous” or “You know that's not true,” could set off an eruption or at the very least turn a meal into an unpleasant experience.

Caregivers must also wear a mask while on the job. The stress they might be feeling should be hidden behind a smile and a can-do attitude. Employers expect nothing less than unwavering loyalty from their workers.

They might not be particularly patient, for example, with somebody who arrives at work late because an elder was having a rough time that morning. Nor, are they inclined to be understanding if a worker makes phone calls while on the job to look after an elder’s medical needs.

Although it hurts to say this, caregivers must, likewise, keep much to themselves as they interact with friends. Sure, their buddies might be genuinely interested in how an elder is progressing. They might frequently ask, “How is mom?” But those questions should not be interpreted as meaning they want a detailed account of her latest nausea episode. 

Possibly they have too much else on their mind to be concerned about this minutiae. Or, they might feel uncomfortable having you share this information, considering it a violation of privacy.

I gained renewed respect for the challenges caregivers face as I began writing my book, Rounding the Circle of Love: Growing Up As She Grows (Sonora, CA: Ladybug Press). They often enjoy precious little support, and I became anxious to provide guidelines that might help people as they carry out these responsibilities.

Learn more on Tuesday, Nov. 10, from 7 to 8:30 Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Legacy Village. The Atma Center and other groups will demonstrate ways in which caregivers can interact with their elders in creative ways, helping to keep them mentally alert.

Harriet Tramer is a journalist and teacher. She has long been a caregiver for her mother Frances, 96.

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Volume 2, Issue 11, Posted 4:31 PM, 11.04.2009