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Caring for Your Aging Parents

Mistake #1: Trying to Do It All Yourself

Maybe you feel that tending to your parent is your responsibility, but the fact is, it's too big a job to do alone, says Paul Hogan, founder of Home Instead Senior Care, a nonmedical care service, and a former family caregiver himself. "If you get help from the start, caregiving will be a better experience," he says. To get others to pitch in:

Assign Jobs to Family and Friends

Delegating even small tasks will lighten the load, so ask your brother to handle Mom's taxes or your sister to pick up groceries. During holidays suggest that someone come by to watch Dad for a weekend so you can take a break. Keep a list of simple chores people can do to help, suggests Donna Schempp, program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. When a friend offers, you'll be ready with a task.

Joanne Cunningham, 41, of Delmar, New York, lives close to her parents in nearby Utica and helps her dad look after her ailing mom, who has Alzheimer's. But she shares the work with her five siblings, an aunt, and a family friend: Her aunt takes her mom to a fitness center and to play cards. The friend takes her mom to lunch once a week. All six siblings rotate visits and take turns calling their parents to check in every day. "You have to create a network," says Joanne, a mother of four.

Join a Support Group

Talking to other caregivers can be a source of practical information and comfort. "Nobody at a support group will judge you when you say you're too tired, angry, or frustrated," says Stella Henry, RN, cofounder and director of Vista del Sol Care Center, an assisted living and nursing home facility in Culver City, California. Check your local hospital for support groups.

If you can't attend one, find support online at organizations such as the Caregiver Media Group (caregiver.com), the Alzheimer's Association (alz.org), or AARP (aarp.org/boards). You can also connect by phone: For a $10 registration fee and a $15-per-session charge, you can participate in telephone support groups with other caregivers and professionals through Caregivers' Connections (877-819-9147), a program run by DOROT, a New York City-based organization for seniors.

 
Involve Your Kids

Rather than view your "sandwich" situation as a problem, consider your children as another source of help. A young child can watch TV or play cards with Grandma, while an older teen can help prepare meals. Since it's easy for a kid to get upset if you devote more time to Grandma than to him, Rhodes suggests explaining the situation this way: "Grandma did all these things for me. Now it's my turn to take care of her. Maybe there's something you can do for her too."