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Caregiving is a Mental Game, Too.

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The more I learn about caregiving and helping older adults, the more I realize family caregiving has a very large “mental game” component.  Handling the mental game is crucial to successful caregiving. Here are a few strategies.

Never saw a perfect caregiver. Never will.

Perfect caregiving is just a dream. Trying to achieve it can lead to nightmarish levels of stress. Even with perfect knowledge and skill, one can’t know what is best for another person, but only do one’s best.  Remember, too, while one person’s caregiving won’t be exactly the same as another’s, a different approach can be just as good.

Acceptance is not a dirty word

Accepting the reality of a chronic illness, whether it is yours or a loved one’s is a tremendous step to greater capability to handle the situations which will inevitably arise when dealing with a long-term illness like diabetes or dementia.  Chronic illnesses all have possible trajectories of progression; your ability to function and stay in charge of yourself or your loved one, will ultimately depend on accepting the disease and learning to live with it.  The alternative is giving up your ability to have the best possible life. Imagine what would happen to your house if you knew the roof needed to be repaired and you refused to accept that.  Over the years your house and its contents would decay from exposure to the elements.  You would probably get sick from a mold problem. Your heating and cooling costs would be enormous, and so on.  Denial is a very expensive and ineffective option for healthcare, too.

Yes, you really do feel, however you feel

Illness is not the only thing a caregiver can deny.  People want to be and feel strong, and for many, negative emotions are a sign they are weak and giving up.  Denying negative emotions can lead to depression. Get professional help if you think you are depressed or your loved one is. This won’t just go away.

If you feel you are being taken advantage of, know you have rights for boundaries, for time for yourself, and to be treated decently.  If you are too angry or upset to express your feelings appropriately and in a way which will benefit the situation, seek help from a social worker, care manager, spiritual leader, counselor or family mediator to work through issues with a sibling, your elder, or spouse.

Strength is mental, too

Your mental strength can help you maintain a take charge attitude, where that is correct and beneficial. Learn about the illness you’re dealing with.  Connect with others in support groups.  Take care of yourself, too, so there is a “you” during and after your caregiving role.  Insist on the help you need, from the start of the caregiving, so no one, not even you, believes you’re the only one who can do the caregiving.

Passages in Caregiving, by Gail Sheehy is a great book on the challenges of caregiving.  Home Care Assistance also has a helpful book on caregiving for various chronic illnesses, called The Handbook of Live-In Care.  For more information, see