In order to perform the difficult and demanding job of a primary caregiver, it is important to take the time to care for yourself as well.
The job of becoming the caregiver for your aging parent is universally recognized as one of the most difficult transitions to go through. To start with, it’s hard to go through the role reversal of parent and child. All your life, mom or dad were the strong ones. They were the ones you ran to for help and who were always there to tell you, “It’s ok. Everything will be all right.” As the primary caregiver of an aging parent, the roles have been reversed and this now falls on you.
As your parent ages and you have to watch their mental and physical decline, you realize everything may not be all right, especially if your parent is going through the slow decline of a terminal illness. When you know the inevitable outcome will be the loss of your parent, it’s challenging to stay upbeat, creative and proactive about how to handle life’s daily challenges.
The task of caring for an elderly parent can be overwhelming.
You have concerns about their finances, their medications, the progress of their disease if they are battling something terminal, their mental state, their diet and their emotional state as well. It’s easy to begin to “hover” your senior citizen in an emotional attempt to block any more harm coming to him or her. This is a parenting instinct and one that your dad and mom may or may not resist. Some seniors want to be cared for, others resent it.
It’s natural for you to feel the anxiety your parent feels and the fears they face as the months and years ahead hold uncertain dangers and a certain outcome. There is an instinct in caregivers to give 100% of your time, your energy and your resources to caring for your elderly loved one.
The problem is that you, the caregiver, have other obligations other than caring for your loved one. You may have a job, a family and your own health and upkeep to think about. It’s a good idea for you the caregiver, your family, and even if possible the one being cared for to keep your eyes open for caregiver burnout. It’s important to help the one who is working so hard as caregiver to also take care of themselves. It is easier on the caregiver to continue in their role if others are helping to make sure they take time for themselves.
Underlying much of the intensity of effort many caregivers put out to help their aging or ailing parents is guilt. Guilt can be a powerful force that feeds on itself in an unhealthy way. The outcome is that, not only does the primary caregiver feel guilty about mom or dad having to go through age related illness, but they feel guilty for any time they take for themselves or to care for their own needs or the needs of their family.
Caregiver burnout can result in decline in health in the caregiver and eventually may lead to changes in attitude about the task of care giving and in some cases a nervous breakdown.
Symptoms include poor sleep and eating habits in the caregiver, a possible increase in drinking to help “settle the nerves” and an inability to think about anything else than what mom or dad needs.
If you see these symptoms in yourself or someone you know and care about who may be suffering from caregiver burnout, act fast to get them some help. They need to realize that taking care of themselves is part of the task of caring for their aging parents. It may even be a situation that calls for a talk with the caregiver as well as with the one being cared for. If that senior citizen can see that they need to encourage their caregiver to go be with family, get some rest, see a movie and forget the responsibilities of care giving for a while, that respite from the stress can do a world of good for that important person in their life.
Here are 10 ways you can take care of the caregiver
- Take some time to do something you enjoy
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Don’t feel guilty about taking a nap.
- Accept help when others offer it.
- Write! Keep a journal about your thoughts and feelings and share them with others.
- Find support. Someone to talk to in the form of a support group, friends or religious leader could be just the encouragement you need to continue in your caregiving role.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Don’t fret the small stuff. Decide on what things really matter and focus on those things.
- Take care of you. Take the time to exercise, or eat right.
- Set realistic goals. Break tasks into smaller tasks when they seem overwhelming.
- Get help when you feel overwhelmed and take a break when you need it.
For local resources :
Huggins Hospital has a number of support groups including Alzheimer's, Parkinsons and Hospice groups.
In North Conway:
The Gibson Center in Conway Has a Care for the Caregiver group which meets on Wednesdays. There is also a group which meets at the Merriman House
A Caregiver support group meets at Wentworth Douglass Hospital
Frisbee Memorial Hospital Has a Caregiver Support Group
In Sanford, Maine
Southern Maine Health Care Has a number of groups including an Alzheimer's Support, A Parkinsons group, Cancer support group and more.
Download this list of 10 Ways to Care for the Caregiver
For more resources on being a caregiver see these other blog articles
- Are you a family caregiver who feels invisible? We see you.
- Being a Family Caregiver - You're Not Alone