I'm caring for my parents, and I am overwhelmed. What can I do?


Many caregivers suffer from burnout. While you can't change your aging parents' condition, you can do things for yourself. First, I'd recommend a physical exam. Report your symptoms of feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Sometimes a physician will recommend medication to help control the things that make it hard for you to function day to day. Medication is a kind of support, and is worth a try if your doctor thinks it will help. You may need to ask for it. It can certainly help with anxiety. Next, it might make sense for you to have the support of others in your situation. Is there a support group in your area? Can you join an online support group? As an example, the Alzheimer's Association offers such groups, as does the Family Caregiver Alliance and of course, here at AgingCare.com

Search for caregiver support groups and try one out. It can be a big relief just to share the everyday burdens with other caregivers who may be feeling as you do. Also, consider respite for yourself. You need and deserve time to "recharge your batteries".

No one has to feel guilty about taking time off. We all need it. Is there someone who can take over for you for a few days off? Can you get away, even if it's just to turn off the responsibility for a period to rest and not think about your job of caregiving? Periods of rest are essential to doing a good job of caregiving.

Maintaining your own mental health in this way will reduce your anxiety and allow you to recover from the sources of your distress, from time to time. Finally, I'm a firm believer in walking as therapy. It's purposeful exercise, gentle, stress-relieving and it can be your mini-respite work that you can do daily. If you have any mobility problems yourself, there are substitutes just about anyone can use. The point is that some exercise every day, even for 20 minutes, can do a great deal to reduce the anxiety and alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed.

It changes the stress-induced metabolic response your body goes through when you're feeling uptight. Think about building some form of exercise into your busy schedule. By protecting your own physical and emotional well-being, you will be able to focus better and continue to do your best for your parents.

Carolyn Rosenblatt is a registered nurse and attorney who has 40 years of experience. She is the author of "The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents." Read her full biography

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1. How many times should I go, Mom? When you were my age and running a household, how many times did you go? ... I guess we'll just have to disagree about that.
2. You could be right. I do the best I can. (Practice saying this so you don't sound defensive.)
3. And the problem with being on the phone is ...?
4. Here, mother, please serve yourself so you'll get the correct amount.
5. Yup. It really is amazing how many things there are to do, isn't it? I'll get to that later. Thanks for pointing it out. (Said pleasantly, with no hint that you are annoyed.) If she points out later that you still haven't done it, Hmm ... I guess that one didn't make my top 10 items to do today. Maybe tomorrow.
6. Mother, my grandchild is coming over this afternoon and will be using the computer. Perhaps you'd like to plan your activities for that time.
7. Good heavens!! Where is the wireless headset? I would be divorced if it weren't for technology that allows private control of sound. Really! Go out tomorrow and get one.
8. Mother, Margie is coming over soon. What would you like to do while I am visiting with her? OR Mother, I know it upsets you when Margie is here, so we'll do our visiting at the coffee shop. I'll be home in time to start dinner.
9. Mother, we have different sleep needs. I'll be going to bed later. (Repeat as needed, always in a firm but pleasant tone.)
10. This is common among persons with dementia. You could offer to help her look for her missing money.

Do NOT, repeat do not, let your mother control how many times you go out, when you go to bed, how often you have friends visit, or any other of your personal activities. Let her holler, complain, pout, get in a snit. Just let it roll off your back and do what you want to/need to do. She keeps hollering at you until you go to bed? Huh? Let her holler. Put on the wireless TV headset and watch an old movie. Or just put on the headset to muffle her sound and go about your business. How many nights do you think she'd keep hollering?

You only go to the bank and store? How about meeting your friend at a coffee shop once in a while? How about taking a daily walk. As the article says, that can have a lot of benefits besides getting you out of the house. How about a trip to the library? (Would Mom like to go with you?) You are a daughter and a caregiver -- not a house prisoner. I think you would be able to tolerate your mother's annoying ways better if you had more breaks from her.

You are an angel to care for your mother in her old age. You don't have to be a martyr too!
I suggest buying, reading and applying two books since she has been a manipulator and controller all of her life.

1. Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward.

2. If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World by Dan Neuharth.

Your mother sounds very narcissistic and has trained you to shut down when she throws out her emotional blackmail. A big part of setting a boundary is informing a person what you will and will not accept into your life and relationship as a means of self-protection and not as a means of changing them. It is not easy, but I have had to do this even with my wife. About 9 years ago, I finally came to the point where I had enough of her verbally abusive mother's visits and constantly going with us on vacations. I told her that for the sake of our sanity as a family, her mother was no longer welcomed in our house nor on anymore vacations which my wife agreed to in her head, but broke this boundary twice out of fear of loosing her mother's inheritance. However, my therapist had helped me come up with a consequence which surprised my wife because I had never been that assertive and communicated very clearly by the first time just calmly leaving the house with our two boys for several nights until her mother left. A few years later, my wife got up enough guts to set some boundaries with her mother herself which made everyone much happier.

Statements of verbal self-defense are fine to a point, but I think you are going to end up calmly stating a boundary with your mother that basically says that you will not be controlled by statements which make you feel like you are being related to as a her little girl and not as her adult daughter. Now at some point the dementia is going to get worse and such boundaries will mean nothing. When that happens, it is time to detach with love as you hold onto three things very strongly,. i.e. 1. You did not make your mother this way. 2. You cannot fix your mother. 3. You cannot control your mother. All you can really do is pick a healthier path for yourself regardless of what she does or does not do.

It is terrible how much we will put up with from a parent that we would never tolerate from a spouse or other people.

I wish you well in setting boundaries as you stop walking on emotional eggshells around your mother. There may be occasions before the dementia gets really bad where you will have to say to a verbally blackmailing statement "Right now I cannot continue this conversation until we can talk to each other as two adults and just calmly walk out of the room.

While I'm not a therapist, I've benefited from therapy and would recommend it for you in this journey because after years of being manipulated and controlled by your mother's emotional blackmail, it is a very tough journey, but worth it, to get freedom from the emotional buttons she put inside of you since childhood. You did not say anything about your dad. So I assume he is dead. If your dad was anything like my father in law was, then I feel very sorry for him.
I live with and care for my 93 yr old mom. She has been a manipulator and controller all our lives. She watches and reports to me every step I take. Please someone help me with some scripts to use when responding to her.
1. you go away too many times ( I only go to the bank and store)
2. you spend too much money ( I don't hardly spend anything on myself)
3. I talk to one friend and she tells me I am always on the phone when she talks for hours with a friend of her brothers.
4. I either give her too much (she's trying to lose weight) or I don't give her enough ( says she ate a long time ago - but it was a huge plate)
5. she always finds something in the house that I didn't get taken care of
6. she complains when my grandchild comes over ( they get on my computer and she complains about that) she just doesn't want anyone here who will take my attention off her.
7. the tv is on FULL blast. If my head is spinning and I have to ask her to turn it down a bit she complains that I am being hard on her.
8. she gets very upset if a friend comes to visit me.
9. she expects me to go to bed when she does and keeps hollering in to me until I do.
10. her money has disappeared and of course I am the only one here

I need some advice on scripts to respond back to her. HELP!!!!