In January 2007, the Archive of Internal Medicine published a survey of caregivers that revealed that fewer than 5 percent of caregivers use any sort of support group or respite care opportunity [source: Brody]. Respite care refers to services offered by adult day care centers or senior centers, which care for aging adults during the day, as well as more long-term options provided by some nursing homes. These nursing homes will care for short-term residents for a few days so that the caregiver can take a break.
Unfortunately, many caregivers don't seem to register "taking a break" as part of their vocabulary. Taking a break will only hasten guilt, which caregivers already have in spades. They may feel they don't give their aging parent or even their own children and spouse enough attention, and so they compel themselves to run on all cylinders 24 hours a day. However, it's extremely important for caregivers to take time for themselves and recharge. A run-down, resentful caregiver is no caregiver at all. Without taking brief breaks, caregivers put themselves at risk for mental problems such as depression and anxiety disorders, as well as a whole host of physical ailments that can attack an overstressed person.
In an ideal world, a caregiver has siblings that are willing to pitch in to help their aging parent, but if that's not an option, look for community resources. The Area Agency on Aging can put you in touch with senior centers that would cater to the aging parent, and many religious congregations may have outreach programs that would provide the elderly person someone to talk to for a few hours. These groups might also know of support groups for caregivers; these groups can help caregivers deal with the whirlwind of emotions they may deal with daily, including stress, anger, guilt, loneliness and isolation.
It may seem that we haven't painted a very rosy picture of caring for an aging parent, and there really is no way to disguise that it's extremely hard work. However, that survey of caregivers mentioned at the beginning of the page? That same survey found that more than two-thirds of caregivers found their role rewarding despite all the emotional, physical and financial stress [source: Brody]. At the end of the day, that time spent caring for your parent may prove to be some of your most precious and memorable time together, and all those difficult times at the end of life may only strengthen your bond.
For more on aging and caregiving, please see the links on the next page.