August “Senior Sense” Are You Your Parent’s Keeper? Interview with author Jody Gastfriend
By Rudri Patel, Attorney & Writer/ Editor
To understand the nuances of caregiving and how to navigate this uncertain terrain, I had a chance to interview Jody Gastfriend, VP of Senior Care at Care.com about her recent book, My Parent’s Keeper: The Guilt, Grief, Guesswork, and Unexpected Gifts of Caregiving published by Yale University Press. Gastfriend understands caregiving from both a professional and personal perspective. In addition to her twenty-five years of experience in social work, Gastfriend helped manage the care of her father who suffered from dementia for twelve years. My Parent’s Keeper has been described as a “GPS for caregivers” and “an indispensable resource for family caregivers.” The book offers actionable advice, illuminating vignettes, and a compassionate approach to helping family caregivers find gratification in their caregiving role. Topics include strategies on planning and paying for care, navigating the health care system, parents who need but refuse help, and siblings who disagree on a course of action.
A common pitfall, according to Gastfriend, is the tendency for family caregivers to take on more than they can handle. “Caregivers who set an impossibly high standard for themselves (and others) are at the greatest risk of burnout. Common caregiver frustrations often derive from the struggle to be a good daughter or son, filial obligations that loom large, contrasted with the reality of parents who don’t want help, siblings who don’t pitch in, and life demands that keep on coming.” To be better prepared, Gastfriend encourages caregivers to learn the landscape of long term care before a crisis erupts.
In addition, the majority of caregivers are in the workplace, juggling competing responsibilities. The chapter called “Making Work Work” outlines ways in which caregiving employees can successfully manage both work and caregiving by taking advantage of employer-supported benefits and flexibility options. Gastfriend urges caregivers “to speak up, ask for what you need, and learn to be your own best advocate.” This advice includes finding ways to care for yourself too. Family caregivers are at greater risk for depression, chronic illness and addiction. “It’s easy to run yourself ragged when you are a caregiver. It happens when you don’t consciously protect yourself from all the risks.” Gastfriend says that “finding a network of support is crucial.” That support may come in the form of paid caregivers, support groups, expert advisors, or respite care. It’s important to be realistic about what you can take on and get the help you need. Ultimately, Gastfriend says “if we ignore ourselves, we are less likely to effectively take care of others.”
In addition to addressing challenges, Gastfriend writes about the importance of realizing the benefits amid the burdens of caregiving. “As we certainly encounter hurdles, may we also cherish the rewards: a sweet smile of appreciation, a warm embrace, and the unexpected gift that our efforts as caregivers will enrich the lives of those we love—and our own as well.”
To learn more about navigating senior care for your loved one, contact a Senior Care Advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at HIDDEN or email questions to HIDDEN
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