My mom has been helping to care for my dad for the past 6 years. She has always done a great job. With the restrictions COVID has brought, she has been unable to attend her regular support group. He has also been in and out of the hospital a couple of times. We have offered to come for a visit to help her, but she has insisted that she can handle it. How can we continue to support her?
This is a great question and common concern of many adult children who watch as their parents begin to navigate the challenges associated with aging. COVID and the restrictions, isolation and challenges it has presented, has increased loneliness and reduced the resources available when navigating care.
Many support groups and in-person community groups have moved to a virtual platform. This changes the dynamic and many older adults shy away from this option. Your mom has probably been busy in her role of caregiver and may not be aware of some of the virtual groups now available and how to access them. You could certainly do the research for her and send an email outlining any options and the link to access them.
Often, a spouse caring for a spouse has a well-organized routine in place and a certain way of keeping things manageable. She has likely developed multiple coping mechanisms as a caregiver. While I am sure she would love to see you, this may be her way of maintaining control of the situation in difficult times. We often shrink our world when a crisis occurs, so it feels more manageable to us. Just knowing you are willing to come is a way to support her. Perhaps you can provide her with some dates in the future and ask if she would like for you to plan a visit and allow her to take a break for a day or two. I like providing this information in an email or handwritten note, so it does not take over every verbal conversation you have with her.
Keep an eye on her stress level. Caregiver stress and burnout is a very real thing. Caregivers often ignore their own health/needs when caring for a loved one. One option may be a routine caregiver coming into the home, to provide a break each week. Sometimes hiring a professional is a good entry point to putting additional support in place. This would allow her to have an ongoing day each week that she could run errands or just have time to focus on herself. It would be consistent, and she would not feel that she was disrupting your routine or inconveniencing friends or family in any way.
If you just want to make sure she knows you are thinking of her and support her, there are also little things you can do.
- Send an encouraging note, letting her know what a great job she is doing and that you appreciate her dedication to your dad.
- Have a meal or nice treat delivered to the house.
- Continue to call her on a routine schedule and just check in and be available to listen. You do not have to have all the answers, just be a good sounding board.
- Keep a sense of humor and find ways to make her smile and laugh.
- Share resources with her that might help her in her role as caregiver. There are some excellent books and as communities reopen, small groups she can connect with.
- Ask her what she would see as helpful. She may have a specific task in mind.
Continue to offer your support both in person and from afar. When the opportunity is presented or a crisis hits, be prepared to follow through on that offer. Your mom is probably doing her best to get through each day. Just be patient with her and acknowledge the amazing job she is doing. It’s often a thankless job, so be her biggest cheerleader.
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