Self esteem is an integral part of an individual’s mental makeup and human psychology. It is an image we have about ourselves, how we feel, how we react to our work, our relationships with family and in general, how we socialize in the community as a whole. Self esteem is viewed as the basis of human psychology and each person is quite aware of their own self esteem. The same awareness of self esteem is present in the elderly, though it may change with the changes in the lifestyle and a change in the roles. As the elderly people become more and more dependent on others, they begin to feel they are unimportant, and that others also perceive them to be so.
Caring for the elderly may not be your first experience at care giving. You may have been performing the role of a caregiver to your children by taking care of their psychological and emotional needs. Self esteem is an important aspect of child psychology too and it is crucial to their success later in life. As the caregiver for your elderly parent, you may have to perform the same functions, though you are not ‘raising them’. That means you have to take care of their physical health, their finances, their living arrangements and their self esteem and mental health as well.
As an individual, one cannot empathize with the elderly parents due to the constant changes that go on in their lives and the great impact it has on their self esteem. Your own sense of self esteem stems from the fact that you are an independent individual and your ability to provide for your kids, perform your job well and also be useful to others in the society. From the viewpoint of the elderly, these factors have changed and the roles have been reversed. This results in a feeling of worthlessness and low self-esteem for them.
The changes that the older adults face in terms of role reversals, dependency on their children or the loss of a spouse can be very difficult to cope. According to the perceptions of the seniors, they cease to be useful to anyone in any way and this increases their feeling of worthlessness. Their pillars of existence and the ideas of life in general begin to disappear. They go from being heroes to their kids to being dependent on their kids, a fact that they cannot accept. Simple things like driving around or even walking become an ordeal.
Loss is always painful, be it loss of a spouse, of mobility, or health or independence. In such situations, it is no wonder that the senior citizens suffer from low self esteem. This is a precarious mental situation that may lead to depression and health problems that will prevent them from enjoying life. If there is no support system, the elderly may even turn to alcohol or drug abuse and in severe cases, suicide.
We as caregivers should try to catch the signs of low self esteem at the earliest. These may manifest in the form of sadness, or losing interest in hobbies, not taking care of oneself, not socializing or having suicidal thoughts, etc. Other symptoms may be narration of pleasant memories repetitively or trying to do things which they cannot cope with.
There are many ways to help the elderly to regain their self esteem. The first is to offer emotional support. Ensure that they are given adequate medical attention for their ailments. Another good therapy would be to allow them to spend their time in the company of their grandchildren. Encourage them to meet their friends and to talk of the old times. As a caregiver, you can be compassionate and patient while dealing with their fears and anxieties.