Color & Control:

10 Eldercare survival tips

By Caroline Tapp-McDougall

Being “fit to care” requires a healthy mind and body and a good old-fashioned dose of a “can-do” attitude. Make it easier on yourself. Think positive and make things happen…at your pace. Be upfront, be creative, and have reasonable expectations for yourself to gain control of your caregiving experience.

1. Play the hand you’re dealt.

The circumstances you find yourself in may not be exactly what you hoped for. Accept the fact that your parent needs you and decide whether you intend to be there for them. Don’t carry around the emotional baggage with thoughts like, “I wish it wasn’t like this!” or “How did I get stuck in this?” Come to terms with your situation, be clear regarding your objectives, and set out to make the best of it.

2. Think positive.

Never underestimate the power of a positive outlook. From it will come the determination and strength to triumph over daily challenges.
If you weren’t born with it, taking this rosy view of life takes practice. Listen to catch your negative comments. Even in an awful situation, try to take a “glass half full” rather than a “glass half empty” approach, especially with those around you. Things won’t seem so desperate, and your community, family, and friends will rally to give you the help you need when you look on the brighter side. A positive attitude pays dividends—everywhere.

3. Make things happen.

Despite what you may sometimes think, you are not totally at the mercy of your circumstances. Refuse to let your present situation control you or wreak havoc with the rest of your life. You can initiate changes for the better. You can make things happen to take the pressure off. Seek solutions, logically and calmly.

4. Set goals.

Be realistic and clear about what needs to be done and what you can manage. Setting goals in conjunction with your parents and health professionals is a great way to start. Goal-setting facilitates clear communication and helps prioritize limited time and resources.

5. Prioritize.

You can’t be all things to all people. Work and life must be kept in balance. Decide what’s important to you and how much time you’re prepared to spend on each area of your life/activity (in both the short and long term). Keep in mind that the more time you spend with Mum, the less time you’ll have to spend with kids, or don’t be surprised if you don’t get that promotion at work (tradeoffs). If you’ve thought it through and you have made those choices, you won’t be surprised/disappointed with the outcomes. Recognize and choose whether your role is to achieve short-term stability in your parents’ life or to accept a new longer-term and more significant caregiving role.

6. Ask for help.

It’s a team effort—so be sure to ask for assistance then recognize and respect other members of your homecare/caregiving team. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Conversely, keep your eye on other family members/ caregivers (spouse, brother, sister) who might be burning out themselves. Sharing care responsibilities reduces the load on each caregiver and makes it easier. Even if it’s just sharing the visiting times at the nursing home, be creative and involve others whenever possible.

7. Overcome your fear.

Sudden or sustained responsibilities can be draining. New demands often require ramping up with new skills. There’ll be lots of questions and not so many clear answers. While it’s only natural to feel trepidation, try not to get overwhelmed. It’s like having a new baby. Some things sort of come naturally—think about it, changing an adult diaper is not a new experience, it’s just a larger effort. Be organized. Keep your head clear, even if it involves going for a walk on your own to regroup. Take it one step at a time. And one of the hardest things is to recognize and respect your parents’ right to live at risk.

8. Be good to yourself.

Uncertainty or self-doubt and the stress of caring for someone else can be draining. You’re over the top when you start to make mistakes, yell at people and feel that you have no time to yourself. Avoid this vicious circle. Treat yourself well (including taking respite, fitness, and wellness breaks), and you will preserve and nurture energy and strength to better care for others.

9. Watch what you eat and respect your body.

Ensuring your body is up to the task begins with what you eat. Foods that you choose will dramatically impact your energy levels as well as prevent illness and disease. Remember:

  • Three balanced meals a day.
  • Five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Sneak exercise into your busy schedule.

If you can’t fit in a full exercise workout, find ways to keep in shape as you go. Get an at-home exercise video and work with your parent to stay limber. Walk across the parking lot to the store rather than parking in the front row. Take the stairs. Keep your weight in check; it takes a lot of energy to move excess pounds around. It also makes it harder to handle the physical parts of caregiving. Be sensible with alcohol. If you find yourself using it as a relaxer or to avoid facing reality, chat with your doctor. As for smoking or breathing second-hand smoke—don’t!

10. Live for today.

Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow may never come. Learn to live in the present. Take a calm look at what you can do to make life better for yourself, your family, and the person you are caring for— today. Don’t sap your energy fretting about your parents’ loss of strength, independence, or vitality. Put your energy into finding ways to help yourself and them enjoy today.


This quick questionnaire will help you determine the type of care and support your elderly parent may need. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions to get a sense of where you and your parents stand.


Does your parent suffer from moments of memory loss, which at times jeopardizes their safety?

❑ YES               ❑ NO

Is your love done less able to maintain their home (do you notice the lack of cleanliness is becoming worse)?

❑ YES             ❑ NO

Is your parent often alone?

❑ YES            ❑ NO

Is your parent affected by a worsening illness or disability that’s making it more difficult to manage independently?

❑ YES            ❑ NO

Is your parent facing a life-threatening illness yet plans to live for the remaining days of their life at home?

❑ YES           ❑ NO

Do you, as a caregiver, find yourself exhausted and feeling like you have no time to yourself?

❑ YES           ❑ NO

  • If you answered “yes” to one or more questions from numbers 1 to 4, you may require additional care services at home. Contact your local provincial healthcare service or a nursing agency.
  • If you answered “yes” to question number 5, palliative home-care programs exist and can help. Visit net for very helpful information.
  • If you answered “yes” to question number 6, respite or caregiver/family care will be helpful. Check with your local healthcare service.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide for Family Caregivers. Pre-order here

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