Caring For The Elderly: Finding The Balance

Posted: April 1, 2013

What can Indian women do if family duty conflicts with personal aspirations when caring for the elderly at home?

By Rakhee Ghelani

Trying to find balance in your life is always hard; whether it is balancing work and children or family and friends, we all face conflicts at different points in our lives.

Particularly for Indian women, balancing the needs and expectations of the elderly, usually parents-in-law and at times parents too, with your own personal needs is challenging. It is not that you don’t care about the welfare of your family, but where do you fit into the picture?

Problems of women when caring for the elderly

It is not uncommon for Indian women to be expected to give up their jobs to care for their elderly. Foregoing a career against your will can be traumatic, but if reasoning doesn’t work, you can still keep a part of your career intact by maintaining connections with your former career so that you can return to it in the future. Have coffee with ex-colleagues regularly, and stay updated with what is happening in your field by using social networks such as LinkedIn.

Like many women, taking responsibility for caring for your parents-in-law can be particularly stressful for both of you. Being responsible for someone who you may have had a difficult relationship with can place you in a difficult position. Your parents-in-law may struggle to relinquish their independence, whilst you may have years of built up resentment from past conflicts or because you have given up your career to care for them. Sometimes this can manifest itself in abuse, with studiesfinding that almost a quarter of abused elderly were abused by their daughter-in-laws [PDF].

To help curb resentment, it is important that you manage to keep some part of yourself in the process of caring for the elderly…

To help curb resentment, it is important that you manage to keep some part of yourself in the process of caring for the elderly; be it your regular badminton game, part-time work or spending quality time with your children. So how do you do this without feeling like you are abandoning your duties?

1. Opting for professional help

One option is to find alternative care for the elderly, which could be either long-term (live in) or short-term respite care.

Long-term care has not been a real option for many in India, with limited good quality facilities available and the cost of such facilities being prohibitive. There are however some new options which do provide good quality care for the elderly. The Association for Senior Living India provides various options in several cities where you either purchase or rent a property within a community that is designed specifically for the elderly.

Depending upon the medical needs of your family, they can receive specific medical care, dining and security, as well as access to various lifestyle activities. These facilities are designed to provide a community to live in rather than be a hospital. With more aged communities being built, there is the opportunity to have your family near you, whilst ensuring they have appropriate care.

…why not try and organise your own respite system? Request another family member to be responsible for care at a regular time each week…

If long-term care is not necessary or right for your family, respite care is a good option. This is short-term care in your home that can give you a much-needed break and also provide medical or social assistance to the elderly. For example, someone may come in and just spend time talking and interacting with your parents-in-law. This provides them with social and mental stimulation and offers you a break as well.

Whilst it is not a well-developed concept in India, there are some organisations like Nightingales Elder Care, Advantage Seniors, Epoch Elder Care and Kadji Care that offer formal respite care. Organisations like Age Ventures India and The Harmony for Silvers Foundation may also be able to provide you with some links to respite carers or offer support services as well.

Alternatively why not try and organise your own respite system? Request another family member to be responsible for care at a regular time each week so that you can have some time for yourself.

2. Plan, plan, plan!

Planning is critical, particularly if you want to have other people help you regularly. Have a regular schedule for your parents and their needs, and also include time that you need for yourself in the schedule. Put up the schedule on the fridge so that everyone in the house can see it and clearly mark out the places where you won’t be available and others are required. That way everyone in the house knows what needs to be done and when.

3. Ask others to pitch in

Get everyone involved in the care-giving responsibilities. You are not the only person who is responsible for caring. Ask for and accept help from your partner, siblings and friends – you don’t need to be a martyr, and you might find that others benefit from the experience. For example, getting your children involved in the caring gives them a great chance to bond with their grandparents.

4. Get support when caring for the elderly

There are a few small support groups on the internet for people in India caring for elders with specific illnesses such as Alzheimer’s (such as Nightingales Elder Care in Bangalore). But if you can’t find a local group, why not seek out an informal one of your own? Do you know anyone else in a similar position? If so, catch up with them for a coffee regularly. You might learn some new caring methods from them, perhaps be able to barter respite care with each other, or just air your grievances and feel a bit better for it.

5. Keep guilt at bay

Last but not the least, you should not feel guilty for having things that you want and need to do that don’t involve caring for your parents. You are entitled to a life of your own and feeling guilty will only hurt yourself.

If you are tired, stressed, resentful and over-worked, you will also not be in a position to give effective care to your parents. So it is indeed critical that you keep yourself sane whilst caring for the elderly at home.

*Photo credit: Enfad (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

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  1. I always say having the right balance is key when looking after the elderly. Sometimes it does get to much and I get live-in care UK come and help me out in the weeks when I am not at home.

  2. I just read the article. Interesting and a very important one. In India, we do not have any government supported elderly care social service system, and the family is expected to take care. It is very essential that the family take care, but when we say family it invariably seem to mean the son and his wife and not the daughters of the elderly. How much ever, the daughters are educated or are economically viable, some of them are still not ready to take turns to take care of their own parents, when there is a son in the family. Let me ask all the readers, one question, do you think the husband would have patience to take care of his wife’s parents when they are really needing help? Will they compromise on their career or work timings to do it? If at all they do so, for how long will they give the care out of kindness? Won’t there be times, if the duration of care-giving is long, then they may also abuse them?
    I do not justify the abuse, but trying to highlight the importance of care-givers’ burn out. Though the writer here has pointed out alternate sources of care-giving and need for others to pitch-in, it does not happen so, in reality. There is so much of expectation from the daughter-in-law, that even if the daughters are close-by, they come to just pay visits to their parents, but do not take turns by shifting them to their house, for a couple of months.
    You can see that even if it is their own children, some parents do have burn-outs, if the children have some special needs. I think instead of accusing a person (here, read as daughter-in-law) for abusive behaviour, a better understanding of the resentment and the remedial action by all would help. The care-givers burn out happens in many problems like mental handicap, physical disability, dementia, alcohol abuse problems, etc…these are just to name a few. Even in these relationships with the person who need care, there is abuse. Then why do we stigmatise the daughter-in-law, when she has a burn-out? Do not we sympathise the parents, who has to physically lift a 14 yr old child, because of his/her disability? If at all the mother gets angry with the child, do not we feel sad for her burden…or do we stigmatise her? Some introspection would help in understanding what is being said here.
    One final point I would like to add is that when it comes to caregiving, the sons’ parents seem to enjoy some kind of entitled privileges, due to which the daughter-in-law is blamed. What about the daughters’ parents…do not they age? Who takes care of them?
    I truly appreciate the writer of this article for bringing up this topic. The above points in my comments are only a few additions which I thought would help all the readers in understanding what the article tries to talk about. Thanks.

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  5. I agree with the poster above. I am surprised that this article was written by a modern educated woman and a traveller/travel writer by profession, who belong to the cream of Indian society. If such privileged woman can hold on to such patriarchal and biased views about elderly care giving and caregivers, then what about the rest of the society ?
    I also, agree with “ME” (above poster ) on the tips part- the tips provided by the writer actually don’t work in reality-especially “asking others to pitch in” part. Nobody ( except own children perhaps ) has the time to pitch in-everybody is busy with their own family-so asking others for help when you are incapable yourself seems a very childish remedy.
    Overall, this article is very simplistic and childish and addresses only one side of the issue without looking into the other side. Both the caregivers and the elderly are humans with emotions and the journey is neither simple nor easy and planning doesn’t help because emotions, set backs, emergencies and even anger and compassion cannot be planned.

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