How do I handle the guilt from not being able to keep my elderly father company all the time?

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Q: I have been taking care of my father for 5 months. I feel guilty because I don't want to keep him company all the time. What should I do?

A: It's normal to feel guilty for being a less-than-perfect caregiver, but of course no one can be available, physically and emotionally, 24/7. Consider bringing in extra help if you can—a trusted friend, perhaps, or relative who might be able to contribute. If that's not possible, contact your local Agency on Aging—many can connect you with people who provide respite care at a reduced cost.

And be alert for signs of caregiver stress. These include:

  • Emotional signals—feelings of sadness or hopelessness, frequent crying or tearfulness, chronic anxiety, loss of interest in usual activities
  • Physical symptoms—decreased energy, restlessness, gastric symptoms (like heartburn or diarrhea), headaches
  • Cognitive signs—difficulty concentrating, decreased attention span, obsessing, difficulty making decisions

Dr. Mary Languirand, PhD

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Mary A. Languirand, PhD, is in private practice in Garden City, NY, and counsels individuals, families, and health professionals in skilled nursing facilities. She co-authored (with Robert Bornstein, PhD) "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care."

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17 Comments

mslisadoll, of course we'd all rather have our loved ones with us and grumpy than dead. But that really isn't the choice, is it? Putting up with unreasonable demands and going on guilt trips they arrange for us does nothing to extend or shorten their lives. We might as well make the effort to make the experience of living with them as pleasant as it can be, for both of us. And sometimes that means setting boundaries.

Out of curiosity, do you live with your parents?
Having cared for my father for just over a year.....NOW I know why my mom was ALWAYS mad at him!!!
He is a very "me" oriented personality and a whiney baby at the same time.
I love him and will take good care of him, I don't have to like him.
I've only been caring for my dad for 2 months, and I, too, now know why my mother always complained about him. He expects me to wait on him and if I get home late from work he complains that dinner is too late for him. It seems like after he moved in with me, he suddenly became more helpless.