Here's an unexpected cure for caregiver stress: Complain about it. Yes, go ahead and dwell. Vent. Gripe. Grouse. What drives you crazy? Make a list of your top 10 pet peeves and see if it doesn't give a twinge of satisfaction to get them out and corral 'em in one place.
The most common pet peeves about eldercare (and the stress of eldercare!) probably look a little different for every caregiver. What's important: Giving yourself permission to have such a list in the first place!
"It's the little things that get to me," one stressed-out caregiver admitted to me recently (thus inspiring this list). Like, of all surprising things, not being able to cook the way she used to. Since her dad moved in, she's had to simplify recipes (he doesn't like mushrooms, onions, green peppers, most other vegetables, fish, pasta, or salads). She must season less (he can't have salt and doesn't like spices). She's even learned to cook the meat-and-potatoes dishes he loves—and she's a vegetarian!
No wonder it drives her crazy! Here are some of my pet peeves about eldercare – as of today, anyway:
1. Professionals who addressme,* rather than the patient.*
I can accompany my parent as a helper (and I take the notes) but hello! Dad's an adult! Even someone with dementia deserves to be talked to directly in the presence of a doctor, nurse, aide, podiatrist, etc., at least until the person has reached a totally unresponsive phase of the disease (and even then I can think of exceptions, such as when being bathed or fed).
2. Being left out of the information chain.
I come from a big family. And we're scattered across many states. Most of the time we've had a remarkable system of communication. In times of crisis, though, who-knows-what-when has sometimes depended on who was there at the time or who happened to call in, or who remembered to follow up with whom. Not usually anybody's "fault," but I hate it when I'm the last to know.
They're intimidating! Few things ever made me feel as helpless as waging war against broken-down skin. I know there are lots of ways to avoid bedsores and how important they are. But when you're not a skilled nurse, prevention and tending feel especially awkward. And bedsores sure can sneak up on you -- and wreak havoc.
4. Turf wars in nursing homes.
I understand that every workplace carries its own "office politics." But when resentment in the form of griping or muttering is visible to family members because one department doesn't like the opinion or advice of another (or of an outside consultant), it's just inappropriate.
5. Disasters with crummy timing.
I hate all disasters, obviously. But it sure seems like a lot of them happen at really inopportune times…like your mom being diagnosed with cancer the day before you're supposed to leave on a five-city press tour that will pay a lot of bills, or her entering hospice two weeks before Christmas. (Okay, not "your" mom, my mom.) There's Dad's urinary tract infection diagnosed right before you were returning home from a visit, or the major surgery requiring you to drop everything and be there. Of course you do what must be done. And it's not like there's a good time for a disaster. Still….
6. Dry shampoo.
My mom swore it worked but it always felt icky to me. Messing with water to wash hair bedside seemed like more hassle but with far better payoff!
7. Having to move slowly, be patient, and build in time for bathroom breaks.
Walking really slowly hurts my back, and answering the same question over and over and over demands a patience I outgrew once my youngest child left her preschool years behind. I know that I should be experienced at adjusting my pace to a needier human being's…so why aren't I better at it? (I suppose my real pet peeve here is my own failure to be graceful about the need to slow down!)
8. Not being sent pictures or memorabilia when promised.
Don't you hate it when people mention some old photo, book, movie, or childhood item that they think the ill person would enjoy, but then they don't follow up? Or they snap photos from a visit but never send them along? (Pet peeves don't all have to carry equal weight; even tiny grievances can irritate, like a pebble in a shoe!)
9. Being ignored by the very person you're trying to help.
You can lead a horse (or a mother) to water, or to helpful suggestions, but….
10. The very word "eldercare."
I know my parents are my elders. All of us are someone's elders. But somehow that word always sticks in my craw (even though I use it constantly, for lack of a better one). It's loving, yet it carries tinges of decrepitude that don't quite match my dad's sparkle, even as he fades away before my very eyes, or my mom's heartiness before the final weeks of her life. Maybe it's not as annoying as certain unfortunate, infantilizing words ("adult diaper" or "adult day care" come to mind) but it makes my pet peeve list because I wish the English language had a more perfect descriptor for this new world of caring and concern so many of us are finding ourselves in.
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