Page 1

@ A C at hol ic Gu i de to

caring for your

Aging Parent

Mon ic a Dodds


Introduction: Caregiving Is Personal


Part One: You Are a Caregiver 1 The Realities of Growing Old “Not My Parent” Understanding Aging


2 Welcome to Caregiving


The Sandwich Generation Stages of Caregiving



3 The Spirituality of Caregiving


The Role of Spirituality in a Caregiver’s Life A Prayer for a Greater Awareness of the Presence of God

How to Nourish Your Spiritual Life

Praying as a Caregiver


20 22


Responsibilities of the Church and Your Parish

How Your Parish Can Support Caregivers




The Basics of Catholic Caregiving

God Knows





viii  •  Contents

4 What to Expect . . . and What to Do about It 33 Handling Unexpected Emotions

Guilt Anger


Respite Care




The Need to Talk




5 Caregiving Is a Family Affair You and Your Siblings


Preparing Your Children to Visit Your Parent

When You’re Married to the Caregiver Caring for an In-Law or a Stepparent





Part Two: Caring for Your Parent 6 Conduct an Assessment 57 Physical Condition 59 Mental Ability 60 Emotional and Social Health 61 Spiritual Life 63 From an Evaluator’s View 64 Choosing the Best Solution 65 7 Understanding Your Parent Your Parent’s Generation

Independence, Control, and Self-Determination




Contents  •  ix

Losses Grief

73 75

“I Don’t Want to Be a Burden”

Confusion about Role Reversal


Always a Parent: Worries about Adult Children Challenges of Communication




8 Doctors and Hospitals The Doctor


Getting a Second Medical Opinion


When the Professionals and Your Parent Disagree

At the Hospital

9 Physical Well-Being and Decline Vision Loss

Hearing Loss

Dental Problems

Poor Nutrition

Depression and Suicide Tobacco Use



108 109


Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease



10 Mental Health




Wheelchairs, Walkers, and Canes

Mental Illness



Problems with Mobility Incontinence



115 119

123 125

  •  Contents

11 Emotional and Social Health


The Danger of Isolation The Need to Have Fun


Celebrating Birthdays and Anniversaries

Writing Memoirs Grandparenthood



136 137

Leisure-Time Activities


12 Spiritual Matters


Spiritual Health

Helping a Parent Find Forgiveness and Peace Welcome Back to the Church The Gospel of Life The Sacraments

The Anointing of the Sick



156 159 159

Personal Safety

In Case of an Emergency or a Disaster

14 Is It Time for Your Parent to Move? Housing Options

Choosing a Nursing Home



13 Your Parent’s Safety Home Safety



Penance and Reconciliation The Eucharist


Should Mom or Dad Move In?


164 169 169



Contents  •  xi

When Mom or Dad Moves In

Saying Good-Bye to the Family Home Finding Help for Your Parent Hiring a Case Manager




When Mom or Dad Doesn’t Want Help



15 Finances and Other Paperwork Financial Management


Health Care and End-of-Life Decisions

Personal Affairs




16 Some Special Problems

Helping Your Parent Give Up the Car Keys

Long-Distance Caregiving: Talking on the Phone Long-Distance Caregiving: Visiting Home Keeping Secrets, Telling Lies

193 193




Dealing with Your Parent’s Racial and Ethnic Prejudices

Euthanasia and the “Right to Die”



Taking Care of a Crabby or Formerly Abusive Parent 206

Refereeing Fights between Mom and Dad

17 Dying and Death Preparing for Death

Talking to Your Children about Death


Words That Sting, Words That Comfort Hospice






Sorting Out, Moving On, Remembering


xii  •  Contents

18 The Church and Dying

Funerals, Memorial Services, and Cremation The Vigil

The Mass of Christian Burial

The Committal Rite

The Communion of Saints

225 225 229

230 231


Part Three: Appendixes

Appendix I: Resources for Caregivers



Critical Issues

Death and Dying

Diversity Disability


Grandparents Housing Legal






250 250


National Organizations Resource Information



Mental Health



Suggested Reading




260 261

Contents  •  xiii

Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders

Tips for the Caregiver

Caregiving Stress: Warning Signs An Assessment Checklist Home Safety Checklist Depression Checklist

Driving Skills Checklist





Evaluating Housing Options

Evaluation of Assisted-Living Facility Evaluation of Nursing Home

Appendix III: Traditional Prayers of the Catholic Church

Sign of the Cross Apostles’ Creed Lord’s Prayer

Hail Mary


284 288

290 292


303 303 304 304




Glory Be to the Father Memorare


Legal and Financial Paperwork Checklist Elder Abuse Checklist


305 305


Hail Holy Queen

Peace Prayer of St. Francis


308 308

xiv  •  Contents

Prayer to the Holy Spirit Act of Contrition

Prayer to My Guardian Angel Grace before Meals Grace after Meals


309 311 311


The Universal Prayer, Attributed to Pope Clement XI 311 Eternal Rest Rosary


314 314


2 Welcome to Caregiving The Sandwich Generation Caregivers can feel like the “sandwich generation”: there’s pressure

from your children on one side and your aging parent (or even grandparent) on the other, and sometimes it gets messy in the middle. Add in a spouse and a job, and it’s no wonder you often feel that you don’t have nearly enough time and energy for all you have to do.

Pressure comes from expectations. Maybe your parent took care

of Grandma or Grandpa. Your spouse took care of your ­mother-inlaw or ­father-in-law. Your friends or coworkers seem to be able to

handle their situations. But you are having trouble. Then comes guilt. When you realize that you can’t do all the things you’re supposed to

do, you think you’re letting everyone down. If you just worked a little harder, slept a little less, sacrificed a little more, then somehow . . .

If you find yourself in that situation, these suggestions

might help:

10  •  You Are a Caregiver

Remember that there is no single “right” way to do this. Trying

to mimic what another person has done probably isn’t going to work for you. Each case is unique because the personalities and problems in each case are unique.

You need to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you will burn out

quickly and be of little use to anyone, including yourself. The situation in which you find yourself is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Yes,

someday it will end, but that may be a long, long time from now.

In the meantime, if you do not pace yourself—or sometimes even

pamper yourself—you won’t be able to keep going. That’s not because you’re weak; it’s because you’re human.

The big picture can look and feel overwhelming. Sometimes

it helps to break it down into the many tiny pieces that make up

the whole: what you have to do for your parent, your children, your spouse, your job, yourself. The lists may be long, but somehow no single item is overpowering.

Prioritize your tasks. Making those lists helps. Obviously, get-

ting Mom to her doctor’s appointment is more important than vacuuming her apartment.

Give away some of the low-­priority duties. Someone can be

hired to do the apartment cleaning. Someone else—the bakery at

the local grocery store, for instance—can supply the brownies you’re supposed to send to the next Cub Scout den meeting.

Get support for yourself. Groups for caregivers and organiza-

tions that focus on your parent’s particular illness or condition can help you deal with what you are facing. Doctors, social workers, and your region’s Area Agency on Aging can give you local contacts.

Write it down. Take notes on all the information from doctors,

therapists, pharmacists, teachers, coaches, your boss, your spouse,

your kids . . . There’s no way you can remember all the things you

Welcome to Caregiving  •  11

need to remember without help. It may seem like the day is completely packed, but if you jot down your own to-do list, you may discover there’s half an hour free here, twenty minutes there. A little oasis like that gives you something to look forward to—a short break

to at least partially recharge your batteries before you have to go, go, go again.

Jesus Christ, sometimes my life feels like a tug-of-war, and I’m the rope. Keep me strong so I won’t break. I need you right here next to me. Amen.

Stages of Caregiving Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

—St. Francis of Assisi

There is no single, tidy, all-­encompassing definition for caregiver. Rather, it’s a job that includes multiple responsibilities that vary not

only from family to family, and not only from one family member to

another, but also from caregiver to caregiver. The caregiver you are today may not be the caregiver you were six months ago, because the care your parent needs has changed. In the same way, the caregiver you are now may not be the caregiver you will be in six months. If

your parent’s health improves, you may be less involved. If it worsens, you may be more involved.

Nevertheless, the caregiving role is typically a continuum that

you move through as your parent’s needs change. Generally, the role

of a caregiver follows a particular identifiable pattern. In other words, it’s possible to identify where you are right now on that “continuum

266  •  Appendixes

Tips for the Caregiver • Be aware of the presence of God and nourish your spiritual life.

• Plan ahead. Don’t wait for a crisis. • Don’t panic.

• Be creative. If your first solution doesn’t work, find a new one and try again. • Get reliable information about your parent’s illness and be aware of any emotional issues. • Learn about your role as a caregiver and improve your skills. • Practice new coping strategies for the particular challenges you face in caring for your parent. • Find your family’s strengths and work together.

• Accept offers of informal support from your family, friends, and parish community. • Respect yourself and set limits.

• Take care of yourself with rest, good nutrition, exercise, and some time off. • Access the formal support of social services in your community.

Follow the advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what’s

necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the


Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders  •  267

Caregiving Stress: Warning Signs Caring for an aging parent is such demanding work that stress can

become a major factor in coping with the situation. The symptoms you may experience are similar to the symptoms of depression. Here are some warning signs that stress is taking its toll:

• You feel angry or irritable and just want to deny the whole situation is even happening.

• You feel as if you don’t have the time or energy to “waste” on pleasant activities, and you become more isolated. • You find it hard to concentrate because you are constantly thinking about your parent’s needs and what you have to do.

• You feel more and more depressed.

• Even though you are exhausted, you have problems sleeping. • You start to develop health problems of your own. You may feel stress for any number of reasons: • There are multiple demands on your time and energy, but you feel as if you should be doing more. • Some tasks and responsibilities are in direct conflict with others, and you’re worried that you can’t do it all. • It seems that everyone has high expectations of you.

• You don’t have the knowledge you need of aging issues and of your parent’s illness, so sometimes you don’t know what to do. • You feel you can’t meet the needs of your parent.

• You have limited access to the support you need and limited money to cover the costs of care.

Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders  •  275

Home Safety Checklist Kitchen: ❑ Items are kept in lower cabinets. ❑ A sturdy step stool is available.

❑ There is a place to set groceries.

❑ The stove and oven are turned off.

❑ Enough storage is available to avoid clutter.

❑ Towels, dishcloths, and curtains are not near the stove.

❑ Oven mitts (not towels used as pot holders) are available. ❑ Water temperature in the water heater is set below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. ❑ Electric wiring is grounded where there’s water. ❑ Appliances are unplugged when not in use.

❑ Leftover food is properly stored and eaten or disposed of before it spoils. Does your parent: ❑ Wear appropriate clothes when cooking?

❑ Always remain in the kitchen when cooking? ❑ Wipe up spills immediately?

Bathroom: ❑ Grab bars (not just a towel rack) are installed in the bathroom. ❑ A grab bar is installed beside the toilet. ❑ Soap is within reach.

❑ The bathtub has a bath mat. ❑ A chair is in the tub.

❑ The toilet has a raised seat.

❑ There is nonslip flooring or a rug for when the floor is wet.

276  •  Appendixes

❑ There is a handheld showerhead.

❑ Water temperature in the water heater is set below 120 degrees Fahrenheit. ❑ The door does not have a lock.

❑ Appliances are unplugged when not in use.

❑ Electric wiring is grounded where there’s water. Bedroom: ❑ A lamp is accessible from the bed and easy to switch on or off. ❑ Night lights are in the bedroom, the hall, and the bathroom. ❑ A flashlight is by the bed.

❑ Hot pads and electric blankets are in good condition. Does your parent: ❑ Use a hot pad and/or an electric blanket in a safe manner?

Security: ❑ Doors, including the garage door and the door leading from the garage into the house, are locked. ❑ Windows and sliding doors are locked.

❑ There is a peephole in the door and a screen/security door. ❑ An emergency alarm system is installed.

❑ Addresses and phone numbers are by the phone and written in large print. ❑ Phone is cordless to reduce risk of falls.

❑ Locks have dead bolts (but not a two-key system, which makes it harder to get out). ❑ If there are bars on the windows, they have a quick­release latch.

Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders  •  277

Does your parent: ❑ Come home alone to an empty house? Outside: ❑ Walks and driveway are free of wet leaves, snow, ice, and cracks in concrete. ❑ Door has a mat for wiping wet feet. ❑ Garden tools are put away.

❑ Bushes are cut back from the walks and windows. ❑ Outdoor lights have motion detectors. ❑ Handrails are installed.

❑ A ramp is installed, if needed. ❑ Front door is well lit.

Lighting: ❑ Lighting shines from several angles to avoid shadows. ❑ Tops and bottoms of stairs are well lit. ❑ Front door is well lit.

❑ A light switch is by the front door.

❑ Daylight comes in through windows.

❑ Correct wattage bulbs are installed in lamps and fixtures. Stairs: ❑ All stairs have handrails.

❑ Handrails line the full length of the stairway. ❑ Handrails are a different color than the wall. ❑ Stairs are in good condition.

❑ There are no rugs at the tops or bottoms of stairs. ❑ There are no frayed rugs or runners on stairs.

278  •  Appendixes

❑ Color-­contrast paint strips are used on the edges of steps if a parent has trouble with vision. Does your parent: ❑ Use stairs for storage?

Living room and floor plan: ❑ Rugs have nonslip backs.

❑ Rugs are free of curled edges that would cause tripping. ❑ Hallways are at least four feet wide.

❑ Halls are free of furniture, boxes, storage, and other clutter.

❑ Walkways from room to room, bedroom to bathroom are clear.

❑ Cords for phones, lamps, appliances are secured and out of walkways. ❑ Chairs have arms for support. ❑ Furniture is sturdy.

❑ Furniture is spaced four feet apart.

❑ Depth of carpet nap is not a hindrance if a parent has trouble with mobility. ❑ No items are stacked in walkways.

❑ Space heaters are placed at least three feet from flammable items. ❑ Extension cords and outlets are not overloaded.

❑ All cords, outlets, and switches are in good repair. Fire safety: ❑ Smoke alarms are installed on each floor and in or by the bedroom. ❑ Smoke alarms are tested on a regular basis.

❑ Smoke alarms are adapted if a parent is hearing impaired.

Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders  •  279

❑ Fire extinguisher is easily accessible. ❑ Fire escape plan is established.

❑ Escape routes are clear of clutter. ❑ Fireplace has a screen.

❑ Carbon monoxide detector is installed, if needed. Does your parent: ❑ Smoke?

❑ Follow rules for safety when smoking? Special situations: ❑ House is child­proofed if young children are coming   to visit. ❑ Area where medication is taken is well lit.

❑ Precautions are taken if pets are in the house.

❑ Precautions are taken if firearms are in the house.

280  •  Appendixes

Depression Checklist Has your parent (or have you) had any of these symptoms for more

than two weeks:

❑ A persistently sad, anxious, or empty mood

❑ Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and apathy

❑ Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and guilt ❑ Frequent crying

❑ A loss of interest in doing things that were once pleasurable

❑ Disturbed sleep: insomnia, early waking, or oversleeping ❑ Disturbed eating: a loss of appetite, weight gain, or weight loss ❑ Decreased energy and constant fatigue ❑ Recurring aches and pains

❑ Restlessness and irritability

❑ Difficulty performing daily tasks, such as going to work ❑ Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions ❑ Neglect in personal appearance ❑ Thoughts of death or suicide

Seek professional help. An early diagnosis is important.

Treatments have been very successful. Some changes in lifestyle will help restore emotional health: ❑ Take time to pray each day and nurture your spiritual life. ❑ Join a support group.

❑ Get together with friends and have fun.

Appendix II: Assessment Guides, Checklists, and Reminders  •  281

❑ Reduce stress and avoid overloading your schedule. ❑ Learn to recognize your negative thoughts and be positive.

❑ Identify problems and explore solutions and coping strategies. ❑ Look for something pleasant to do, and do it. ❑ Maintain your sense of purpose. ❑ Cherish family relationships.

❑ Exercise and eat healthy foods. ❑ Be patient with yourself.

A Catholic Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parent  

A Catholic Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parent is a comprehensive guide for caregivers. Dodds insists that faith is a fundamental part of...

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