It's no secret that caregivers are subject to added stress. One of the most common contributors to stress among caregivers is role reversal, which occurs when the caregiver must adjust to a change in the relationship -- usually involving a spousal relationship or a parent-child relationship.
For example, when a husband who has traditionally been "cared for" by his wife (perhaps she has always cooked and cleaned for him) suddenly finds himself taking over these tasks for his ailing wife, he can struggle with this change in his identity. Likewise, adult children who take on the role of caregiver for an aging parent often experience stress as they adjust to this change in roles.
As their parents may have come to their rescue during their teenage and young adult years, children of ailing parents may find themselves handling finances, addressing medical concerns and more for their once-independent parents. Added stress is three-fold: children have added responsibilities on top of their own daily lives, they must face the fact that their parents are no longer capable of handling their own affairs as they once were, and it's uncomfortable for them to take on the role of "parenting the parents."
It's especially challenging for spouses and parents who are resistant to the change. For example, mom or dad might not be willing to accept the idea that they can't be responsible for paying their own bills each month. Aging parents tend to be more resistant, however, when the changes disrupt their dignity. Maybe you've decided to place your loved on in an assisted living facility or nursing home due to problems performing activities of daily living. The loss of the home they once knew and loved can be frustrating for an aging parent and cause a great deal of guilt for a child caregiver.
To help cope with the challenges of role reversal, consider the following bits of advice:
- Keep the lines of communication open. Let your loved one know that you're happy to be able to reciprocate the loving care that you have received from them for many years.
- Recognize that aging is a natural part of life. While it may be frustrating for you to watch your loved one decline, you've been granted an opportunity to spend quality time and give something back.
- Remember to take care of yourself. Stress can have a significant impact on the health of caregivers, and if your own health is failing, you can't offer your best self to your loved one. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and be sure to attend to your own physical and emotional needs.