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Don't Be a Martyr

I've been the primary caregiver for my 88 year-old mother for the last two years and I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the challenge. I'm becoming very bitter. Help! Irene in Ohio, 52

Caring for an elder loved one is often an overwhelming job. Make sure you're taking care of yourself, and then determine the time and resources you can devote to the care of your elder. You can't do it all by yourself. Get support from and delegate to others. Don't let yourself get caught in a no-win situation.

As long as you determine exactly what help is needed, most people are eager to come to your aide. It could be in the form of a financial contribution, lending a specific talent (like being a handyman or balancing a checkbook), or just stopping by every other Saturday afternoon to give you a rest. Almost any request will be met as long as you have a specific time frame and task in mind.

You need to have someone outside of your family to talk to, someone who won't judge you and isn't a part of your family history. If nobody is available or you dislike therapy, I strongly suggest you keep a journal of the experience. Keeping perspective will help you stay balanced and give you more energy for yourself and your elder.

Most importantly: Don't become a martyr! You'll only become resentful and unproductive, and your elder's care will suffer. I've even seen caregivers who become so overworked and overwhelmed that they get sick and even pass away before the person they are caring for.

I was involved with a young California couple that was trying to take care of three relatives who lived in different New York City locations. The Californians had tried to deal with all of the doctors, helpers, and aides, as well as the nursing home applications, and medical and insurance forms. They were flying back and forth, spending their own money, and becoming more and more frustrated with their relatives who expressed some hostility, were reluctant to give information, and were resentful about the "giving up" of independence. The Californians felt like martyrs.

The elder New Yorkers didn't understand how much time, effort, and money was being spent on their behalf. Everyone felt justified in their accumulated resentment. When the Californians got in touch with me, I quickly organized their elders' information. I then opened the lines of communication so that everyone understood what the other was doing, why they were doing it, and what the goals, objectives, fears, and anxieties were. We finally reached some common ground. The Californians began to see how their efforts, though good intentioned, were being perceived by their elderly relatives. In turn, the elderly understood how much they truly needed the help, and they were more forthright and honest with their information. So long, martyrdom.


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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide