Adult Only Children & Elder Care

Responsible Only Children

Adult only children have special needs and concerns that often go unrecognized.

The pressures, guilt, fears, and sense of loss that often come into play when elderly parents need help or are ill, particularly with diseases like Alzheimers, are inevitably the only child’s responsibility. Given the close relationships many only childen have with their parents, these situations can be more painful and unrelenting in their demands than when shared with siblings.

Many only children tend to have older parent, so the reality of illness and death often present themselves sooner. Some only children who are only in their twenties find themselves thinking about how they will care for their parents in the future.

Making Tough Choices

Certainly the logistics associated with caring for aging parents have altered over the years. Women, who have traditionally been primary caregivers, now work outside the home and can’t give full-time attention to parents. Board and care, shared living arrangements, and nursing homes now often substitute for family care. While this variety of alternatives eases some strains, difficult decisions still need to be made. And those are choices the only child frequently makes alone.

On Their Own

One gerontologist who has practiced for many years is not surprised that many of those who seek her advice in caring for elderly parents are only children. In My One and Only, author Ellie McGrath relates the story of an only child in his 40’s who has the sole responsibility for parents in their 80’s. “They’re both relying on me more and more to help with practical judgments. I find myself having to make arrangements for them to do things: paying doctor bills, just the minutiae of life that should take about five minutes to do. I sometimes think if there were two or three children, this particular cycle of family life would be so much easier to manage.” On the positive side, only children don’t have to argue with siblings about the decisions they have made for their parents, nor do they have to deal with family issues that have never been adequately resolved. There are no arguments, but the comfort that sharing brings is also absent.

Because only children usually grow up to be very independent,they may find it difficult to share their stress with family members: husbands, wives, or children. There is a popular misconception that only children are dependent and clinging. Nothing could be further from the truth. A government study concluded that children from large families were actually more dependent on their families than only children. Self-confidence is an only-child trait.

America has always admired self-reliance, and the only child’s belief in himself and stoicism in the face of adversity are certainly fine qualities, but they have their drawbacks. Thinking they are indomitable, it’s all too easy for only children caregivers to become isolated, overwhelmed and lose track of their own needs. Those only children who care for patients with Alzheimers and Dementia at home are particularly susceptible to the kind of stressrelated physical problems described by epidemiologist Lisa Fredman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Longevity Magazine reports that Fredman “interviewed 165 caregivers and found that 19 percent of them reported a gain or loss of at least 10 pounds since taking on their caregiving duties. In addition, 24% of the smokers increased etheir habit.” Fredman explains that “It’s often difficult for caregivers to gauge just how much stress they are under. Weight change may be an indicator that it’s time for the caregiver to start thinking about taking care of her-or himself, whether that means hiring outside help or joining a support group.”

Be Good to Yourself

The only child’s sense of duty and responsibility runs deep. As adult caregivers they often feel that they have to sacrifice everything for their parents. After all, their parents gave so much to them. The adult only child needs to understand that if he is worn out, he isn’t going to be much good to anyone else. Suzanne Mintz, president and cofounder of the National Family Caregivers Association based in Kensington, Maryland explains, “It’s like what they tell you about oxygen masks on an airplane. Put your own on first so you don’t pass out before you help your child.”

It is most important for only child caregivers to join support groups and communicate with others, especially other only children who are having a similar life experience. No one understands an only child better than another only child. Talk is not only informative; it is also healing.

Senior Health Care Tips from Tenet HealthSystem

Avoid Over-Medication According to the Council on Family Health, of all adverse drug reactions reported each year, almost 40 percent involve people over age 60. Americans over the age of 65 on average, fill 15 new prescriptions a year and use a third of the medications prescribed in America. With all those drugs, experts say, comes a huge potential for adverse drug interactions. In fact, some illnesses in older adults are actually drug-induced. Adverse reactions can also be the result of a drug interacting with food, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco. Pre-existing medical conditions can also have an effect on the body’s reaction to medication.

For safety’s sake:

  • Follow the directions in taking medications.
  • Bring the drugs you take with you, including any over-the-counter medication,    when you see a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
  • Ask for containers that are easy for you to open.
  • Organize medications on a weekly or monthly chart.
  • Use dose containers or small bottles labeled with days and times.
  • Make sure your pharmacist keeps your personal profile on computer.
  • Have your prescription filled promptly so you won’t run out.
  • Don’t stop taking the medication until the doctor tells you to.

We are actively seeking senior and adult only children who are interested in starting local and regional support groups. Please contact us with your suggestions.