So far, I haven't needed much help handling normal everyday tasks. But as I approach my 86th birthday—and the sixth anniversary of my Parkinson's diagnosis—I can see the handwriting on the wall. I'll probably need increasing help from family members, friends, and—eventually—paid caregivers.

As a result, I think a lot about the relationship between patient and caregiver.

I spoke recently with a friend who has been both a volunteer and professional caregiver. She told me the biggest problem she sees is the tendency of family members to treat their elderly loved ones as invalids. The result, she said, is that patients become invalids. My friend often encounters tensions with family members when she comes in and gets granddad up from his wheelchair and out for a walk.

When Caregivers Care Too Much, that's the title of an article in Psychology Today that starts off with this example of "over-caring:”

Meet Alvio and Jennifer, They were married right after college, some 45 years ago, When Jennifer learned that her darling Alvio had emphysema, she was devastated. Like most wives, Jennifer immersed herself in her husband's care. Jennifer knows a good wife doesn't let a sick husband do things himself. So even though Alvio is still able to do most everything and doesn't need much help, Jennifer does everything and takes care of all of his needs. After all, his life is at stake! But Jennifer is so caught up in his care that she doesn't notice its negative effects.

Co-dependence and over-caring

In AA meetings, recovering alcoholics often talk about co-dependence and enablers. Enablers are people who do for us what we should do for ourselves, allowing us to continue our alcoholic behavior as they clean up our messes and take care of the things we should be taking care of.

As a result, these enablers delay our coming to terms with the first step needed for recovery—admitting that we are powerless over alcohol, and that our lives have become unmanageable.

The caregiver who over-cares engages in similar behavior.

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(Learn more about The Difference Between Helping and Enabling a Loved One)

A concluding thought

I'm not interested in living into my 90s, if it means I must assume the "default position"—sitting in front of a TV all day long.

Then I think of three individuals I know who are maintaining quality lives well into their mid-90s. It's probably no coincidence that they share two things in common:

  • They're women.
  • They prefer to live alone.