Special parents

CompanionshipServicesI grew up in a time when people were not very politically correct or overly sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. It was very common to address people based on some physical characteristic that was prominent. The short one was usually addressed as “Kulla” (which means short in Tamil), the tall one may be “nattay kokku” (Tall crane) and the fat one “gundu” (No points for guessing right here. “Gundu” means fat in Tamil). Those were the decent nicknames. More often than not, nicknames were worse, but the worst ones were reserved for children who were mentally challeged – people who could not even defend themselves.

So, it is not a great surprise when, many years ago, I did not get the drift when somebody referred to another’s child as a special child. When I asked some other adult what was special about the child, they (quite insensitively, in line with the times) explained to me that special child was just a euphemism for a mentally disabled child.

It was only years later, after growing up and having a child of my own, did I truly understand why they are called special children. I realized that all children are special, of course, and that each one comes with a custom build character and has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncracies. And that special children are special in ways that are not as common and thus require additional care and loving.

Today, I see parents of special children dealing with them with the sensitivity and patience required and succeeding in highlighting what is truly special about them. The biggest common traits I see among such parents are, one, they have all been able to truly accept their children as they are, and two, are able to calmly manage the behaviour of their special children, whether it is withdrawal on one extreme, or hyper-activity at the other.

Just as special children require our understanding and care, those of us with parents with neurological conditions need to realize that our parents are “special parents” too.
We need to accept that people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, or other forms of dementia are not trying the make life difficult for their children and care givers. They have become more difficult to handle because of neurological changes and conditions that they have no control over.

Here’s hoping we all have the patience, resilience, and strength of mind to look after our special parents and ensure that they have a caring and loving family around them till the end.

Life-life balance

life-balance-elephant1People are fond of talking about work-life balance. Basically what this phrase means is that one’s life should not be all work and there must be time allocated for self, family, friends and recreation and hobby,  so that there is a good balance in one’s life.

For people who are looking after elderly loved ones at home (whom we call “family caregivers”), we have a similar phrase – it’s called life-life balance.

Many of the family caregivers we meet have pretty much completely given their lives to looking after their elder ones, usually their parents. We know a Doctor who has given up practice to look after her mother, a man who has taken long leave from his government job (on loss of pay) to look after his ailing and aged father, a lady looking after her husband who has got Alzheimer’s and her mother-in-law who is really old, the list goes on…

What is common to all these people is that they no longer seem to have a life of their own. Their day (and night) revolves around the people they are caring for and everything they do is rearranged to ensure that the routine for these people is not upset. This kind of life can be extremely stressful and many of them are depressed, and have lost interest in all the things that gave their life a good balance.

If you are family caregiver, falling into such a rut is very easy, and before you know it, you life would have become completely uni-dimensional.  To avoid getting caught do the following:

1. List down things that you love doing. This could include work, hobbies, general activities, fitness routines, friends, etc.

2. Build a support structure that will let you provide time for most of these activities. Have helpers come in to relieve you, talk to your friends, relatives, siblings to give you regular breaks – any which way, ensure you always have some “me” time.

3. Don’t let the condition of those under your care get to you. More importantly don’t feel guilty. Most family caregivers have not received a single day’s formal training in looking after the elderly and consequently most feel inadequate and ill-equipped to handle the different situations that arise. When you are feeling that way, tell yourself you are providing the best support that you possibly can.

4. Get proper rest. Getting up 3-5 times every night can be extremely enervating. Even if you believe that you are used to it, it can still impair your judgement considerably. So do not compromise on the rest and sleep that you need. Find ways to avoid having to get up in the night. Diapers can help a lot here or have a night nurse so you can be fresh to face each new day.

5. Remember, you are duty bound to look after yourself as well as your loved ones. Besides, only when you are fit can you do a good job of providing support to the cared ones.

Life-Life balance is all about making sure you don’t short-change yourself. Get up and go get a life!

This is an article in the series – “The Elephant in the Room”.
The elephant in the room” (TEITR) series is meant to highlight many facts and realities about the life of senior citizens in India that most of us tend to ignore/avoid.

A little guilt is a good starting point.

caringforcaregiverWhen your parents get old and need to be cared for, one of you (among the children) will end up looking after them for the majority of the time. We wrote about that here.

However, just because you are not the one looking after your parents does not mean that you don’t have any responsibilities.

Are you feeling a little guilty that you are not the one providing the care giving? Good, because that is a great starting point. However, don’t let it end there. Do something to help your sibling doing the care giving so that their life also gets easier.

Think you are too far away to help? Think again! And find ways to help.
Feel you are too busy? Every one’s busy and you just have to find the time.
Don’t know how to help? Ask your brother or sister who is doing the looking after. They will know how you can help.
Think it’s easy? Try doing it yourself and see how enervating it is to watch a loved one suffer.

Be creative and learn how to help your sibling and your ageing parents lead a more comfortable life. Go ahead and pick up the phone and give your caregiving sibling a call now.

This is an article in the series – “The Elephant in the Room”.
The elephant in the room” (TEITR) series is meant to highlight many facts and realities about the life of senior citizens in India that most of us tend to ignore/avoid.

You could be the chosen one!

thechosenoneYour parents may have 3-4 children or even more and yet the primary responsibility of looking after them in the old age may fall on you. The choice of you as the primary caregiver could be driven by many different factors – city you live in, the size of the house you have, the proximity of the required medical facilities, your marital status, your financial situation, maybe even your parents’ preference.

Given that in all probability, each of your siblings is married and has a family of their own, the ailing parent can only be looked after by one of you at any given time. Though it is possible to shift them from one sibling’s house to another on a regular schedule (we see this quite often), that is by no means a very comfortable proposition from the parent’s perspective.

Talk to your siblings, find out how they can help, see how you can have them share the additional responsibilities with you, but remember the bottom line – if they are staying with you, you are their main caregiver and it is entirely your responsibility to handle the situations that arise.

“Why me?” is a question you can ask every minute of every day, and yet never get an answer. so, if you are the chosen one, deal with it.

This is the third article in the series – “The Elephant in the Room”.
The elephant in the room” (TEITR) series is meant to highlight many “obvious” facts and realities about the life of senior citizens in India that most of us tend to ignore/avoid.

Importance of going out

Second in our series titled “The Elephant in the Room” highlighting common issues we tend to ignore.

senior_day_outMany old people, especially those with even minor balance issues, incontinence issues or other mobility issues, gradually lose their confidence and stop going out of the house altogether.

Given the state of the roads and traffic, we also, as children and care givers are happy with this trend because it saves us from a lot of anxiety and worry. Before too long, the only activity that our elderly are involved in is watching television.

This is a very dangerous trend. Without regular meeting with friends and other sensory imputs (beyond television, which is a very passive form of activity), the brain tends to deteriorate faster, possibly speeding up the process towards some form of dementia.

In addition, being cooped up in the house can lead to reduced exercise, faster degeneration of muscle tissue and increased irritability and depression.

As children and care givers of elders, however much easier it is to let them stay at home, it is our duty to ensure that they go out on a regular basis.

You can take them to the beach, arrange a group visit to a nice place or temple, get them to visit relatives, or even coax them to a walk in the neighbourhood park.

Do not let your insecurities compound theirs. Being imprisoned within four walls is no life for anybody, least of all our loved ones.

Take them out today!

Watch this space for more news in this area.

The Elephant In The Room – your parents need you.

elephant_in_the_roomThis is the first in a series of short articles titled “The elephant in the room” (TEITR), which will highlight many facts and realities about the life of senior citizens in India that most of us tend to ignore/avoid.

This one is about your parents needing you.

If you are in your mid-forties and have parent(s) alive, sooner or later you are going to have to look after them, just they way they looked after you when you were a baby – literally.

This means that, one day, they may become incapable of looking after themselves and you will have to feed them, bathe them, clean them and keep them entertained and in good spirits and health.

With age and infirmity, some of the elderly get cranky and irritable. Age related illnesses such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons can add to the complications. You may have to keep a close watch on them, lest the wander away. You will need to identify a good Geriatrician. You will have to set aside time to take them to their Doctor on a regular basis and ensure they are taking all their medication on time and the vaccinations required (there are new vaccines in the market specially targeting older people including ones for pneumonia, typhoid, etc. Ask the Doctor). Be prepared for midnight emergency trips to the hospital.

Learn to identify their needs and wants. Do not expect them to tell you – sometimes, they may not know or may not wish to tell you. Relearn how to put on a diaper. If you have forgotten how to show your love and affection, relearn how to hug and kiss.

Old people are like babies. For the lucky among us, our parents will live long. Towards the end, they will need all the support, love and affection you can give. And only you can give it.

You don’t have to think about that and worry about it now. Just be prepared for when the time comes.