Who cares for the caregiver?

Caring for our elder loved ones has changed over the years. Children living great distances from their parents and women having careers and full-time jobs are both factors that have resulted in less multi-generational families living under one roof, and more families ‘fitting in’ caregiving among many other responsibilities or even, caring from great distances. Many are finding themselves part of the ‘sandwich generation’, caring for both parents and young children at the same time. With our aging population, becoming a caregiver may be more necessity than choice for many families. Being a caregiver can be overwhelming; impacting relationships, jobs, emotional and physical well-being. The best way to lessen or even avoid some of these issues is for the caregiver to ‘care’ for themselves. But the question is, how do you do this when you are juggling responsibilities and being pulled in many directions?

There are several things caregivers can do to cope better with this often unexpected and daunting role:

Communicate: Speak to medical personnel about concerns, issues, diagnosis and prognosis. Create a support network including family, friends and others who you can easily talk with about your feelings and needs. Bear in mind that avoiding or negating problems does not make them go away; it only compounds them.

Educate yourself: Knowledge can only empower you; know the facts. Ask questions of medical personnel and anyone working with your loved one so you can fully understand the situation, their medical condition and the options available to you. If you are providing physical care, ensure you learn how to do this safely.

Ask for help: Sharing responsibilities is difficult for some though accepting help from others is important for both the caregiver and the person receiving care. Learn to delegate tasks to family and friends who are willing to assist. And, don’t be afraid to hire help if you need to. Good care can be provided by others besides the immediate family and it is important to recognize this and utilize it if necessary. Keep in mind that people don’t know what you need unless you ask for it.

Stress management: It really is okay to feel overwhelmed, sad, anxious and a host of other emotions. Acknowledge and recognize your feelings – don’t try to hide or negate them. Explore and understand the things that trigger a stress reaction in you and what that ‘looks like’ for you. Learn the signs of ‘caregiver burnout’ and speak to your doctor or a mental health professional if you are concerned or if your physical health or functioning is impacted.

Life balance: You need to ‘care’ for yourself in order to be an effective caregiver for someone else. Eat properly, exercise, sleep and take breaks. It’s okay to do things for yourself. Build in ‘me’ time into your week. You can say ‘no’ if you simply aren’t up to doing something. Caregiving is a learning process so allow yourself to make mistakes. Know your limits and deal with your stress before crisis hits. Don’t ignore your own health issues. Talking to others who understand your situation, can be very helpful; consider joining a support group either in person or online for those in similar situations.

Even though being a caregiver can be stressful, it can also be extremely rewarding. How it impacts us has everything to do with our ability to deal with the ups and downs of daily life and our attitude. Finding the ‘silver lining’; having realistic goals, sharing responsibilities, cherishing special moments and finding enjoyment in simple pleasures can contribute positively to how we cope and manage what can be one of the more challenging roles in our lives.