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Nurturing Those Who Care for Elderly Parents or Partners

Nurturing Those Who Care for Elderly Parents or Partners

Nurturing Those Who Care for Elderly Parents or Partners

Caring for the Caregiver

As we age and our health needs change, it’s likely that we will be a caregiver for a significant other, or the roles may be reversed. In many families, the role of caregiver falls to a son, daughter or sibling. Even when your loved one lives in a community such as Meadowood with support services, a caregiver provides much-needed emotional support.

But it’s often the caregivers themselves who are most in need of emotional and other support. Whether it’s the actual physical work of helping with daily activities or the emotional strain of seeing a loved one totally reliant on others, the role of caregiver taxing one, and one that can take its toll.

While caring for an older adult can be extremely rewarding, it also can be quite overwhelming. That’s why it’s important for caregivers to prioritize their own needs as well as those of the person in their care.

If you have reliable friends or family members in whom you can trust, consider sharing the tasks associated with caregiving. This gives others a chance to feel useful and valued — and gives you a much-needed break.

However, in many families the role of caregiver falls on a single individual, sometimes determined by proximity to the person in need of care. If you’re thrust into the role of caregiver, keep in mind that others are often quick to share their opinions of what you’re doing wrong, but slower to share the burden of care. If, on the other hand, you’re geographically distant from your loved one, there are ways you can help from afar. For instance, regularly check in with both the person receiving care and the caregiver to offer emotional support. Plan a visit to relieve the caregiver of their responsibilities for a week or so.

Caring for individuals with dementia can be particularly draining. Keeping to a routine gives those with dementia a sense of order, and can help you as caregiver feel more in control.

Receiving care also can be stressful, particularly if the individual took great pride in their independence from others. And, as a caregiver, remind yourself that just because you don’t receive thanks it doesn’t mean your loved one appreciates your efforts any less.

Don’t wait until you’re completely overwhelmed to seek help. Look for signs along the way. The National Institute on Aging provides these warning signs of stress overload:

  • Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or anxious
  • Becoming easily angered or impatient
  • Feeling lonely or disconnected
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling sad or hopeless, or losing interest in activities
  • Suffering from frequent headaches, pain, or other physical ailments
  • Not exercising or eating healthy foods
  • Skipping showers or other personal care tasks
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

The institute offers a free Caregivers’ Handbook, filled with practical resources.
The Family Caregivers Alliance and Care 4 the Caregivers also are great places to start for support groups and more.

There’s no shame or guilt if you need assistance with caregiving responsibilities. Where should you seek help if you’re feeling overwhelmed? Start with your doctor, clergy, or other trusted advisor. Sometimes it simply helps to vent.

It’s important to set boundaries. You should never be on call 24-7. It’s very important to set aside some time for yourself. This is not being selfish; it’s being smart.

Here are a few ideas of little ways you can add some de-stressing “me” time into your routine:

  • Get a massage
  • Take a relaxing bath
  • Listen to your favorite music (and sing!)
  • Go for a walk outdoors
  • Cuddle with your pet (or someone else’s!)
  • Learn to meditate
  • Take up yoga
  • Enjoy a cup of herbal tea
  • Curl up with a good book
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Attend services at a house of worship
  • Play solitaire or an online game

If all else fails, have a good cry. This can provide a great release of tension. On the flip side, indulge in gut-splitting laughter. Watch a silly comedy sitcom, movie or standup comic. Roll up your car windows and scream at the top of your lungs. Whatever it takes, let loose; you’ll feel better afterward.

It’s important not to stress over things you cannot control. Don’t waste your time worrying on these problems. Instead, make plans — and take action — to address the issues over which you do have control. You’ll feel better in the long run for it.

In order to be an effective caregiver, you must first take care of yourself. If you’re totally run down and exhausted, you risk making errors that could put both your care recipient and you in danger. So recognize the signs of burnout before you’re in too deep. Then take a moment and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Help is just around the corner.