This article first appeared in New Straits Times.
OVER the weekend, I went to Kuala Selangor to see the fireflies with my parents. We sat together on the gently rocking boat, looking around, trying to spot the tiny dancing lights among the trees.
Turning, I caught a glimpse of my parents’ faces and saw them as if for the first time.
Where had the fine lines around their eyes and mouths come from? When had their skin become so thin? How had I not noticed them growing old?
Caring for seniors is a big responsibility that consumes a lot of people’s time – especially if the senior has special needs.
Working children often worry about leaving seniors alone during work hours as no one is around to tend to them and keep them company. They compensate by rushing home after work to spend time with them, but this inflexibility causes them to sacrifice their own desires, such as having to say no to social invitations from friends. Over time, it can breed frustration and resentment.
Caregiving does not have to be a solitary undertaking. New mothers often say how much they feel like themselves again when they can leave their children in the care of a babysitter for the evening and go for a movie on their own. When they return, they are happier and more energised to resume their care responsibilities. Primary caregivers for seniors can do the same.
In my opinion, your heart has to be filled first before you can give love to anyone else.
Guilt prevents a lot of people from seeking help for senior caregiving because they feel like it should be their responsibility and they aren’t doing a good job of taking care of their loved ones.
The truth is, the primary goal of caregiving is to make sure the senior is well taken care of and enjoys a better quality of life. Getting help from professional caregivers is not a failing on your part; rather, their help empowers you to spend more quality time with your elders instead of spreading yourself too thin.
Having a professional caregiver around relieves the pressure on you to be the sole caregiver, which makes for a healthier relationship between you and your senior family members.
Professional carers can cater for all the senior’s needs and keep them engaged when you are away, giving you peace of mind and alleviating boredom and loneliness for them. Many are also trained to care for seniors with chronic conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which often requires extra understanding, patience and vigilance.
Some aspects of senior caregiving, such as waiting in line at public hospitals for a medical checkup, are necessary but far too time-consuming. Others, such as changing stoma bags and inserting catheter tubes, are difficult to accomplish without proper training. In both instances, professional caregivers can take over those duties and relieve your burden. Once you don’t have to worry about these basic needs, you can concentrate on the things that really matter such as talking to and doing activities with your senior family members. Overall, the quality of care is improved – for all parties.
A famous saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”. In the same way, senior caregiving is not a one-man job. It might seem strange that people can suffer burn out from giving love, but while love can be infinite, our energy is not. We need to take care of ourselves before we can do the same for anyone else – just like when airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before attending to others. How can we help anyone else if we feel like we can’t breathe?
Prolonged self-sacrifice is not healthy for anyone and nobody wants to feel like they are a burden to others. Find the balance and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Pause and take a break so that you can go the distance. You owe it to your loved ones to take care of yourself – but most of all, you owe it to yourself.