February 3, 2015

mature woman embracing senior womanWhen you watch someone whom you love deeply, like a parent or spouse, cope with the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of later life or chronic disease, it is easy to compare what daily life is like now to what it used to be – and to fantasize that things were different. As it turns out, most medical professionals now agree that it’s okay to be in denial for short periods of time. Small trips down the river denial can provide necessary breaks from caregiver stress and reminders of the beauty in life.

Denial is, after all, the first step in grieving, a process experienced not just when a life is lost but when we lose anything that we hold dear, such as our independence, physical abilities, youth, and so on. We also can go through denial when we watch those we care about experience loss. Denial is a necessary step in the way that we process uncomfortable changes in our lives. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations.” It’s a way for our minds to absorb overwhelming information at a pace that we can handle, and it’s different for each individual.

Many caregivers enter various, fleeting states of denial when caring for elderly loved ones. Denial is a place to escape sadness, fear, and other overwhelming aspects of providing care. It’s also a place to remember the wonderful contributions that your loved one has made throughout his or her life. It really is okay to have days when you say, “I can’t think about all of this right now,” or “Today we are going to focus on what makes us happy.” Having days where you focus on the simple things instead of heavier issues offers a reprieve from stress.

Although denial can be healthy in small doses, doctors warn against remaining in denial for long periods of time. Persistent denial can paralyze caregivers and keep them from advocating for their loved ones and providing for the care and treatment that they truly need. It’s important to have the moments of relief and respite that denial can provide, but it’s more important to have a long term plan of care.
According to Dr. Ira Byock, MD, a leading palliative care physician, public advocate for improving care in later life, and author of Dying Well, providing good care starts with a conversation. It’s vital for caregivers to start conversations with their loved ones about the care recipient’s needs and wishes that will make later stages of life easier for the caregiver to navigate. It’s also important to have a relationship with a reputable, professional home care company to call when caregiving stress becomes unmanageable.

At Continuum, we believe in caring for the needs of the family as well as the needs of our clients. Whether you need advice, respite care, or just someone to listen, our professional senior care staff are always here to give you answers. To speak with a member of our staff for St. Charles or St. Louis County home care needs, call us at 314- 863-9912 or 636- 861-3336, or contact us to learn more about our services or to schedule a free in home consultation.