Taking care of your elderly parents requires a surprising amount of energy, time, and resources. If you don’t have energy, you don’t have the patience, compassion or love you need to be a good caregiver. These tips will help increase your energy level and ease the stress of caring for parents who are elderly or in ill health.
My suggestions for getting more energy aren’t just the usual advice (eg, eat nutritious foods, sleep well, exercise daily, meditate or pray often, talk to close friends, take breaks and ask for help caregiving for your elderly parents). You already know all that! Rather, I explore a variety of emotional resources and practical tips that will energize and sustain you. I also weave in a woman’s experience taking care of her elderly parents; they both had dementia and needed her full-time.
Since I worked with the Alzheimer’s Society and facilitated support groups for caregivers, my focus is primarily on caring for elderly parents with dementia, Parkinson’s, or other types of cognitive health issues. Nevertheless, these tips for getting more energy will help no matter what health issues your parents are coping with in their elder years.
How your elderly parents are reacting to this stage of life depends on their personality, experiences, and genetics. Your mom or dad’s outlook also depends on their physical health, emotional issues, and frame of mind. These tips on how to increase and sustain your energy levels will help, but they can’t cover all situations! If, for example, your mom or dad is a control freak you may find it helpful to read 7 Tips for Dealing With Controlling Parents.
Here’s a caregiver’s experience with her elderly mother:
“I sit in the evening now on the edge of my Mom’s bed and listen to her telling me the stories of her life, amd many are what she perceives as bad choices and regrets,” says Marjorie. “Erick Erickson’s description of the eighth stage of life reminds me to listen attentively. I also tell my Mom stories of how her creative and loving ways helped all four of her daughters become caring adults and innovative thinkers.”
Sitting at your elderly mom or dad’s bedside and listening to stories is important – and it can require a surprising amount of energy. Your mind may be wandering, your “to do” list mounting, your tummy rumbling, your heart breaking, your spirit rising in protest or even anger. It can take more energy than you have to simply sit and be with an aging parent. This is because simply sitting and being with your mother or father is more important than it looks.
10 Ways to Get More Energy When Caring for Elderly Parents
“The most difficult part of realizing my parents had dementia was the emotions,” says Marjorie. “I started realizing that things were not well. I think I started grieving before I even realized fully what was happening. I would describe this period as if I was harnessed to a giant boulder. I was trying so hard to move things forward but the boulder barely budged. My constant effort was exhausting. I had no energy to take care of my elderly parents. I also felt extremely alone. I couldn’t find anyone who was sympathetic or understanding. Even the doctor felt alien.”
Do you feel exhausted, alone, and frustrated? You are not alone! These healthy, life-giving ways to take care of yourself will increase the energy and strength you need to take care of your elderly parents.
1. Prepare yourself for difficult elderly parents 🙁
Some elderly parents who need caregiving are weak, unhappy, and unprepared for this stage of their lives. They may be grumpy and difficult to talk to, moody and even childish. Your mom or dad may be grieving but unable to show it, enraged but unable to express it, or deeply sorry but unable to say it. Elderly people were raised in a different time and era; how they cope with life and health and death may not be the same as your methods of coping. Expect your elderly parents to be unhappy about their health situation and unwilling to cooperate with. Expect mood swings, physical problems, frustrating moments and bad days.
Soften your heart when you enter your mom’s and dad’s presence. Allow them to be sad, angry, upset and confused. Resisting their feelings and behavior will drain your energy; allowing and expecting your parents to be old, sick and grumpy may not energize you, but it won’t deplete your energy the same way.
Also, give yourself time to adjust to your new role. “Changing my mindset from being a daughter to being a caregiver was a long, slow, tiring process,” says Marjorie. “Looking back, I feel I barely transitioned from being a young adult, getting my education, starting my career and being mostly carefree. Subtle things started changing with both my parents’ health due to aging, but it was definitely more and faster with my mother. She had frontal lobe dementia.”
2. Ask for help from family, friends, or paid caregivers
“I am amazed at the unexpected gifts I received after I started caring for my elderly parents,” says Marjorie. “I didn’t think my husband and I had the time, resources or energy to adjust to being caregivers. But when we asked for help, we found what we needed. We even gathered a Circle of Care team around us. I had no idea how to care for old, sick people much less my own parents! But we asked for help and received it.”
If you can afford to hire a caregiver so you can take a break, expect resistance. Your elderly parents may not want help in their home or life; your other family members may resist the financial cost and intrusion. It may take time to convince your family, but a caregiver can give you the break you need. Use the time to gather your wits and find the energy you need to make good decisions, take care of your parents, and stay healthy. Marjorie’s mother took a long time to feel safe and let go of her resistance to being supported and cared for.
“Ask for help from neighbors, friends, family members, professional caregivers, advocates and volunteers,” Marjorie says. “A team will support you and your elderly parents, and help you cope with the inevitable physical and mental challenges that caring for elderly parents brings. Getting help may decrease your energy and take time at first, but it’s worth it. Seeing my Mom happy, relaxed and connected to having her team around her is heartwarming. It also gives me time for myself, which I wasn’t getting before. I was running out of energy and couldn’t cope.”
If your parents aren’t easy to care for, read 3 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Parents.
3. Attend free “Caring For Aging Parents” seminars online or in person
At first glance, this suggestion seems like it’ll drain your energy! You may feel too exhausted to get through the day, much less attend seminars. The last thing you need is one more thing to do, right? But I have an ulterior motive. You won’t just get information on caregiving aging parents, you’ll also meet other caregivers. You may make new friends who understand how much energy it takes to care for elderly parents. Many non-profit and government organizations have free info sessions on caring for elderly parents.
A good information session for family caregivers will teach you:
- How to deal with difficult elderly parents
- How to increase your energy, health and well-being
- When and how to schedule health visits and doctor’s appointments
- How to deal with financial issues such as insurance policies, trust funds, investments, etc
- How to deal with legal issues such as power-of-attorney, wills and estate issues
- How to make difficult decisions (Should your elderly parents live with you? What to do with aging parents?)
- What to consider for the funeral or memorial service
- What to say when your elderly mother is mean or your aging father complains
- What the most common myths about dementia are, and how to know if an aging parent is at risk for dementia
You might also get specific information on taking care of elderly parents at a good information session. Ask a friend or family member to go with you; an extra set of ears and eyes will help you hear and see everything.
4. Relax your shoulders and take a deep breath
Are you tense and tired just reading the list of questions and problems people deal with when caring for aging parents? It can take as little as five minutes to relax and get energized. Relax your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Hold it in for three seconds. Let it out slowly. Maybe close your eyes and do it again.
Dr Oz once said his wife Lisa’s “quick energy tip” is peppermint. Aromatherapy! A little whiff of peppermint can lift your spirits and give you a burst of energy. Whether or not you’re caregiving full-time, take a break regularly in your day. Take five minutes to breathe, smell something that energizes you, and just be. Slowing down helps your heart stop racing and clears your mind. Have a glass of lemonade or a cup of peppermint tea, and treat yourself to something sweet and delicious. Take it out on the patio or sit on the front stoop.
You’d be surprised at the impact a five minute break – and a snack – is when you’re drained from taking care of aging parents! Imagine yourself floating in the waters of grace.
5. Honor your personality – are you an innie or an outie?
Introverts gain energy from being alone. Extroverts are energized by spending time with people – the bigger the group, the better! Are your personality traits mostly introverted or extroverted? If you aren’t sure, read How to Know If You’re an Introvert or an Extrovert.
Whether you’re mostly an introvert or mostly an extrovert, take time to connect with close friends and kindred spirits. Find activities to do and interesting things to talk about – other than caring for your aging parents! Make a list of people who increase your energy and bring you joy. Different people have different ideas on how to get more energy and cope with the stress of taking care of elderly parents. To find what energizes and uplifts you, know yourself. What brings you alive?
6. Join an online or face-to-face support group for adult children
“Caregiver stress can be degrading and demoralizing,” says B. Lynn Goodwin author of You Want Me To Do WHAT? – Journaling for Caregivers. “Avoid the downhill spiral. Start somewhere. Start anywhere. Take care of yourself and you’ll be a better caregiver to your loved one.”
Search the internet for “caregiver support groups” or “caring for elderly parents” and the name of your city or town to find resources. They’ll have more tips on how to get more energy when you’re caring for elderly parents. Ask your neighbors, friends, coworkers, fellow church members if they go to any stress management or caregiving support groups. I facilitated support groups through the Alzheimer’s Association; the weekly meetings were the highlight and sometimes even the salvation of many group members. They often entered the session feeling emotionally drained and physically exhausted. They’d leave with more energy and motivation they needed to take care of their elderly moms and dads. The caregivers inspired and motivated each other to keep going.
7. Learn about your parent’s health issues
What are the signs of dementia? How do you know if your elderly mom or dad needs assisted living? Watch your parents for signs of cognitive decline and physical health problems. In her own words, here’s how Marjorie realized her mom had frontal lobe dementia (and her father wasn’t much healthier).
These 4 signs of dementia were impossible to ignore:
- Odd items being “stolen.” The house was ‘broken into’ several times and on one occasion my mom said she directly confronted the trespasser. Her purse was stolen from the home several times. But so were other unusual items like pots and pans, towels, the vacuum cleaner … did someone really steal those items?!
- Change in routine. I got a call from someone at my parent’s church saying they hadn’t been there for a few weeks. When they asked my parents, they got a strange answer that didn’t really make sense. I asked my mom and she said they had been very busy so had not gone to church. This was very odd because my elderly dad was a retired pastor. They would never have missed church for anything.
- Getting lost, forgetting where the car was parked. I got a call from the neighbor saying he found my parents at the mall one day and they didn’t know where they parked their car. The neighbor brought them home and then they went back later to retrieve the car. Extreme and unusual behavior changes like this make it difficult – and exhausting – to take care of elderly parents.
- Unusual or odd behavior. My parents went on a sudden road trip, but their timelines didn’t add up with other things I knew they had been doing. They also didn’t stop in to see my brother, who lived a half hour from where they had gone. They said they didn’t have time to go that far. When I asked my mom where they had stayed, she said “My, aren’t you inquisitive?” Initially these behaviors were just odd or unusual, but more and more things started happening. My parents couldn’t explain them and avoided my questions. When I asked each of them about something separately, I got confusing answers that contradicted each other.
“This all happened over a period of several years,” says Marjorie. “At first it was just little things that were odd but gradually it became more and more serious. That’s how I knew both my elderly parents need caregiving. I also knew I didn’t have the energy and neither did my husband. I needed help.”
8. Create moments of joy
In Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer’s Journey: A Guide for Families and Caregivers, Jolene Brackey encourages caregivers to look beyond the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and more energy on creating moments of joy.
When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. The present is all that counts! You can’t create a perfect day for your elderly parents (or yourself), but you can create perfectly wonderful moments. Sometimes all it takes is a smile on your dear old dad’s face or a twinkle in your mom’s eye to lift your spirits and increase your energy levels.
Five minutes later, your elderly parents may not remember what you did or said, but their warm, happy feelings will linger. Creating Moments of Joy is filled with practical advice sprinkled with hope, encouragement, new stories, and generous helpings of humor. If you need help, faith and energy while caring for aging parents, you’ll find in the pages of this joyful, hopeful book!
9. Allow your aging parents to have false memories
One of the most important things I learned about taking care of people with dementia is not to correct their memory of the past. If your elderly mom thinks your dad is still alive, for example, let her think he’s at work and will come home later. Let her believe what she believes about her husband, family, life. One of the caregivers in my support group used to correct her father when he talked about his son living in India (his son had in fact died a decade earlier). Her elderly dad’s grief was fresh and raw every time he learned of his son’s death.
It can cost you precious time and energy to tell the truth to your elderly parents. Sometimes it’s harmless and easier on everyone to just let them believe what they think is true. Try to avoid pointless arguments or conflicts, especially if it’s the same struggle over and over. Use your energy in more important ways.
10. Talk to local service agencies and organizations
It takes time and energy to call different agencies and organizations, but it will pay off in the long run! It’s impossible to manufacture the energy you need to take care of your elderly parents; you may need to take time away to rebuild your storehouse of patience, compassion, and love. It can be difficult for caregivers to let paid or volunteer helpers into your mom and dad’s home and life, but it can be sanity-saving and life-giving.
Check local chapters of disease-specific organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association or the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Most diseases have an organization and a support group. Some meet face-to-face, others are online. The support group members share tips and tricks for coping with exhaustion, dealing with elderly mothers who complain, coping with aging fathers who are angry. Learn how other caregivers gain energy and strength to take care of their parents. Reach outside your normal circle. For example, you don’t have to be a member of a local church congregation to ask for help or guidance on caring for elderly parents. Reach out to an organization you haven’t tried. Also, call local and regional hospitals. Many have adult day programs in the community, which might give you the respite you need when you’re taking care of aging parents.
If you don’t think you can care for your parents, read How to Help Your Mom Move to an Adult Group Home.
Feel free to share your thoughts – big or little – below. How do you increase your energy and stay healthy while caring for elderly parents?