Think you’ll never be a caregiver? If you and two friends are between 44 and 65, and are having lunch together, chances are, 1 of the 3 of you is caring for an adult aged 50 plus years. Plan how you will approach the caregiving journey–it’s a matter of protecting yourself and doing a good job for your loved one.
1. Caregiving can be rewarding
Caregivers appreciate the chance to give back their time and effort to another who has cared for them. Pride plays a role, too. Many find the opportunity to provide excellent care is a source of pride and satisfaction. Consider whether you’re choosing caregiving or it’s been thrust onto your shoulders. If it is your choice, you’ll fare better, even when the role and tasks become stressful and difficult.
2. Decide what really needs to be done
Approach this job with caution. List, on paper, what absolutely must be done, such as medication reminders and doctor visits. List all the things you would like to do, such as daily check on your dad at 8 a.m., 6 and 10 p.m. Check off tasks which can only be done by you. Further, write down all the things which must happen in your own life, such as “work 9-5 to pay the mortgage” and spend real, regular time with your spouse. Eliminate all possible items from the “must dos” so you can stay mentally and physically sound.
3. Plan out the “needs to be done” list
Be sure to include others who will help you provide care from the start, whether they are services through your local Area Agency on Aging, family members, or professional caregivers. If you can begin with help, no one, yourself and your loved one included, will conclude you are the only one who can provide care. Often, the early days of caregiving are the lightest, even if you’re responding to a crisis. Sharing care provision with family members when the load is lightest is the easiest path. Since adding to your caregiving role is far easier than subtracting from it, decide very carefully what you will take on, from the beginning. Friends often tell me this: “I am so worried about Mom. She is getting sick more often, and I know it is from the stress of caring for Dad. She refuses to get help, always saying she doesn’t need it, good care isn’t available, and she is the best caregiver for Dad.” The reality is, caregivers do need help, it is available, and while it won’t be exactly the same as what they provide, it can be good. Repeat after me: getting help is okay.
4. This is likely to be a long-term role
Once upon a time, as recently as the 1960’s, people got sick and died. Now, people get sick and live for years, if not decades. Long-term caregiving is not your “duty” or “what you do because you are family.” It is a long, complicated, and at times difficult job, especially if you already work at a career or are raising a family. Every caregiver needs help and support. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information on services, talk to friends, clergy, and other trusted advisors, including geriatric care managers. Watch out for signs of depression; 40-70% of caregivers have some form of depression. Check WebMD.com/depression/guide, for ways to prevent depression and how to recognize you need help.
5. The burning issue: Caregiver burnout
Anger, bitterness, and resentment at the situation and struggles of constant caregiving can lead to depression, destroyed relationships, and physical, mental and financial abuse of the care recipient. If you experience extreme, negative emotions or find yourself in the role of abuser, even on a mild level, immediately call a neighbor or friend to relieve you and contact your Area Agency on Aging to get help. Frequently evaluate yourself for burden and depression. Here’s a link to the caregiver burden assessment we often share with families: http://homecareassistance.com/pdf/CaregiverBurdenAssessment.pdf.
Being a caregiver does not mean doing a difficult and long lasting job all alone. Successful caregivers find a way to share the effort required, care for themselves, and use available resources for the good of their loved one and themselves.
Your first step to getting help can be to take a look at Virginia Morris’ book, “How To Care For Your Aging Parents.” Home Care Assistance has also written a series of wellness books which can help you care for the older adults in your life.
This article was updated December 5th, from it’s original (Feb 2015) version.