Updated: Nov 1, 2021
If you're caring for an aging parent, or facing the challenges of assisting a loved one/ friend who is chronically ill/disabled or elderly, you are one of the 22 million Americans who right there with you. Me included. Family caregivers provide 80 percent of in-home care. Unlike nurses and home health aides, they are unpaid for this labor of love.
It can cause burn out, lost wages, and increase your risk for depression.
"Caregiving is a difficult job that can take a toll on relationships, jobs and
emotional well-being," says Dr. Elizabeth Clark, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers. "Those who care for others need to be sure to take care of themselves, as well."
I myself, grew up a caregiver until my parents passed in my 20’s. My father was declining throughout my entire childhood with diabetes, heart failure, obesity and a myriad of other ailments throughout the years. My mother eventually passed on hospice from pancreatic cancer. Very few years went by where at least one of them were admitted the hospital.
Caregivers can feel the ripple effects of caregiving in all aspects of their life. These ripples can be present for years after. And it's important to recognize that it can impact social development, professional growth, family dynamics, and contribute to the feelings of disconnect in relationships.
But the good news is, I’ve learned a lot over the years, and if you are a caregiver who can relate, and I would like to share a few things that I wish someone had said to me.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask For Help
We tend to wait until we are in crisis before asking for help and consultation. Seek out the help of a licensed clinical social worker or other trained professional. And be a specific as possible when asking. If cooking feels like too much, as a friend to get you take out. If you need someone else to walk the dog, hire a dog walker, or ask a neighbor. People genuinely want to help, they often just don’t know how to be helpful.
It's Not Easy to Tell Your Parents What to Do
The most difficult thing about caring for a parent is the day you have to tell them they can no longer do something for themselves. They raised you, and now, you are telling THEM what to do?! When they can no longer drive, accept more help or its time to move from their home, it’s not an easy conversation. Discuss long-term care wishes and desires before any decline happens. And worse comes to worse, involve a professional. Doctors and Rehab Therapists often have many resources they can share, or they can facilitate the conversation if you get stuck.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
It is not unusual to feel frustrated with your parents, children, friends when they refuse your input and help. Seek a referral to a professional who can help you cope with your personal issues and frustrations. I will publicly admit I did not do this early enough. Books, medication, support groups, professional therapists, or even a group of friends who are experiencing a similar life events can go a LONG way to keeping your sanity.
We live in a world of constant change. Medications and treatments are constantly changing and the only way to keep up-to-date is to stay informed with the latest news. Attend local caregiver conferences, participate in support groups, speak with friends and relatives, and talk with professionals in the field of gerontology and geriatrics. Create a system that allows all caregivers to update each other withOUT all the burden. Google drive and other apps are a GREAT resources for this.
Take Time Out
Caregivers who experience feelings of burnout need to accept that occasionally they may need a break from their loved one in order to provide him or her with the best care. Read that again.
You know the saying “ You can’t fill from an empty cup” well, it applies double when you are a caretaker. Respite care, adult daycares and hiring a home health aide can help relieve the burden, provide you with a chance to enjoy your loved one as just loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask a family member to come cook dinner, so you can see a movie, or even go for a walk. Order that take-out, and just watch TV some nights.
Humor and laughter are tremendous healers. Find one thing a day to laugh at, and work at finding the humor in the every day. Reminiscence with your loved one on favorite memories by creating a memory book, or help them record their favorite stories on video. These memory making moments are so special if you can find the time.
If possible, you may want to hire help. The most important thing is to find trustworthy people to provide assistance. Use recommended home care agencies, talk with friends about their experiences and interview professionals before deciding on the one you are going to retain.
Asking for help, hiring the help, or finding moments of calm are important so you don't lose track of yourself while caregiving. It is often a thankless, and under/unpaid position. Our good memories can be overtaken by the burden of caregiving and its important to find support to overcome those feelings.