How to Handle the Challenges of Caring for Your Aging Parent

Pregnant with her second child, working, teaching, and caring for her mother who was undergoing cancer treatment, Natasha Mosby finally followed her own advice: ask for help.

“I can’t cook,” Mosby laughed as she recalled her breakthrough. “So I asked my mom if it would be okay if[my husband]cooked her meals?”

Mosby is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Lecturer and Project Coordinator at the UNLV School of Social Work. Mosby knew that maintaining her sense of independence was important to her mother, Bobbie C. Summers, and made sure to ask her permission first. Summers prided herself on her autonomy, so maintaining a sense of self-confidence and decision-making was important.

Summers eventually agreed, and along with her son-in-law, the two cooked together. Though her mother died 12 years ago, Mosby says the lessons she learned about caring carried over to how she teaches students in the graduate social work program.

UNLV student Allana Ramos listens to School of Social Work instructor Natasha Mosby during the integrated behavioral health seminar.

Her courses focus on an integrated behavioral approach. Students will learn how to help their clients understand how their physical and emotional well-being are interconnected. In addition, students learn about cultural competence and why family dynamics differ depending on socioeconomic status, cultural background and generational traditions.

As a clinical social worker, Mosby has counseled family members on both ends of the spectrum: the caregivers and their aging parents. Both groups want to understand how to navigate their role reversal as they move into this new chapter of their lives.

Seeing parents age, get sick, slow down, or need help can be difficult in itself, Mosby said. But the caregiver may also belong to what is known as the sandwich generation, which is when adults, usually in their 40s and 50s, have a parent who is 65 or older and is either raising a young child or financially supporting an adult child who is 18 years old or older.

“Watching my mom give up this super active Superwoman role – it was hard for me because I thought she would never get sick. I thought she would always be that giant in my eyes,” Mosby said. “I had to deal with being scared. i was scared Clients fear their aging and mortality. You watch that person change and you may come to terms with whether that will be your experience.”

Mosby gave caregivers tips on how to manage stress and why therapy can help manage emotions so families can maintain mutual respect and strengthen bonds.

For purposes of this article, the term “carer” refers to a child who is caring for a parent; However, the responsibilities of a caregiver are wide ranging and the person in the role of caregiver may be caring for a grandparent, a partner or a child.

Acknowledge that parents are changing too

Mosby said caregivers should try to “respect the autonomy of their loved ones.”

When it’s safe, give them space, she said.

“Respect that. Also remember that they are also processing and trying to understand what is going on with their bodies, especially when our loved ones are sick. They need time to process, to center and to come back to themselves” , Mosby explained.

Ask for help

First, learn how you’re comfortable asking for help. When you get into a comfort zone, you will be more inclined to seek help and connect with people who may be going through the same things. Caregivers have an advocacy role and must navigate complicated medical, nonprofit, government, and healthcare systems.

Creating a support system is a way for you to advocate for yourself before you advocate for others.

“We live in a world where we have to learn to take off our cloaks and say, ‘It’s okay, I can’t do all this on my own, and it’s okay,'” Mosby said. “It’s okay for me to sit down and eat, take a moment and breathe and process where I am. It’s okay to call friends and say, ‘I’m fighting’.”

how are you really

Mosby checks in with her customers and reminds them to check in with themselves.

“Where are you today? How are you? Have you been drinking water, eating?” she asks. “You need to fuel yourself so you have the energy to help others. First, be able to take care of yourself – and it can be as simple as sitting outside for five minutes, touching with our senses, observing something that brings us joy, eating ice cream, playing games.”

Speak it out

“Therapy is a form of self-care,” Mosby said. “We have a better understanding of how things affect our mental health and not just mental health but physical health as well.”

Physical ailments such as headaches, heart pain or stomach problems can be associated with stress. Talk therapy is known to help reduce anxiety, provide healthy coping mechanisms, and introduce more effective communication skills.

Close relationships certainly affect overall well-being; However, Mosby advises having a neutral person to talk to if possible.

“It’s extremely important,” she explained, “to have a safe place where you can speak out loud about the thoughts you’re having and understand all of that in a non-biased and non-judgmental environment.”

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