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Four-fifths of elderly Americans in need of daily assistance live at home rather than in a retirement facility. While around nine percent of them rely solely on professional, paid, care, the vast majority get help from relatives and other loved ones. Adult children — who are quite often over 65 themselves — take on a large portion of this responsibility. 

Being at home (whether they continue living in their own home or have moved in with adult children) offers elders plenty of advantages, from not being cared for by strangers to escaping the loneliness and isolation so many people face in nursing homes. Caring for your aging parents can offer caregivers comfort as well, and enable bonds that are really quite special, but make no mistake — its hard. Physically and mentally. Having done it myself, I know. 

How do you cope?

Allow Your Parent To Contribute

First things first, and this one is really especially for people whose parents live with them in their home, and who may still have minor children as well. It's easy to go into full caregiver mode, thinking you have to take care of absolutely everything, and to burn yourself out that way. Many elders who need day-to-day assistance are very sound of mind as well as still able to do many things — whether it's helping children with homework, doing some washing up, knitting, or doing genealogy research. If this is your situation and your parent is eager to be of help, please don't get in their way or tell them "I'll do that". More than that, don't "push" care on them when they can handle something themselves; most people want to be as independent as they can. 

Give Each Other Space

Living together, or even "just" spending an awful lot of time together in an elder-caregiver context, can easily lead to social cabin fever. If your elderly parent lives with you, make sure they have their own space, and you have yours, to retreat to when you're both going a little crazy. 

Be Realistic About Your Abilities — And Your Needs

Caregiver burnout is a real thing. Feeling overwhelmed doesn't mean you don't love your elderly parent. It does mean you need some help. When you first start caring for your parent, make a list of things you can do, things you're gonna need help with, and things you can do but would prefer to have help with. Evaluate the situation again as it changes. 

You may, for instance, be able to accompany your parent to medical appointments, get their medication from the pharmacy, and remind them to take it, but need help with housecleaning and would prefer it if your sibling took your mother to see her older brother. You may be able to give your bedridden parent sponge baths, but need professional help to get them to the toilet. You may be able to care for your parent with Alzheimer's in the evening, but need a professional while you are at work — and so on.

Be realistic about what you can and cannot do and discuss the ins and outs with other relatives as well. Ask for help. Siblings who aren't able to contribute physically may be able to do so financially. 

Don't neglect your own needs either, and those needs are bound to include time away from your caregiving role, time for yourself, as well as physical rest. Rather than this making you a bad caregiver, it makes you a caregiver who can continue offering care. 

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