Some older adults need only a little assistance, such as help with shoveling snow or rides to and from the grocery store. Others need a lot of help with daily activities like eating, bathing, dressing, taking medications, and managing money. Over time, some older adults with increasing medical problems often need significant help from caregivers in performing activities of basic living.
While caring for an older family member can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime, it can also become stressful at times. This is especially true if the older adult has dementia or needs around-the-clock care. Most caregivers are spouses/partners or adult children.
They may have health problems of their own, have children to care for, work outside the home, or all of these. The additional duties of providing care for an older person can lead to excessive physical or emotional fatigue, called “caregiver burnout.” There are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life and stave off depression while caring for a loved one.
Practice acceptance. When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving, there’s often a need to make sense of the situation and ask “Why?” But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change and for which there are no clear answers. And at the end of the day, you won’t feel any better. Try to avoid the emotional trap of feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame.
Embrace your caregiving choice. Acknowledge that, despite any resentments or burdens you feel, you have made a conscious choice to provide care. Focus on the positive reasons behind that choice. Perhaps you provide care to repay your parent for the care they gave you growing up. Or maybe it’s because of your values or the example you want to set for your children. These deep, meaningful motivations can help sustain you through difficult times.
Look for the silver lining. Think about the ways caregiving has made you stronger or how it’s brought you closer to the person you’re taking care of or to other family members.
Don’t let caregiving take over your life. Since it’s easier to accept a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding, it’s important not to let caregiving take over your whole existence. Invest in things that give you meaning and purpose whether it’s your family, church, a favorite hobby, or your career.
Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish for more hours in the day or force your brother to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on how you choose to react to problems.
Celebrate the small victories. If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter. You don’t have to cure your loved one’s illness to make a difference. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!
Imagine how your loved one would respond if they were healthy. If they weren’t preoccupied with illness or pain (or disabled by dementia), how would your loved one feel about the love and care you’re giving? Remind yourself that the person would express gratitude if they were able.
Applaud your own efforts. If you’re not getting external validation, find ways to acknowledge and reward yourself. Remind yourself of how much you are helping. If you need something more concrete, try making a list of all the ways your caregiving is making a difference. Refer back to it when you start to feel low.
Talk to a supportive family member or friend. Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to come from the person you’re caring for. When you’re feeling unappreciated, turn to friends and family who will listen to you and acknowledge your efforts.
Look into respite care. Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or watch the patient so you can take a well-deserved break. Volunteers or paid help can also provide in-home services, either occasionally or on a regular basis. Or you can explore out-of-home respite programs such as adult day care centers and nursing homes.
Speak up. Don’t expect friends and family members to automatically know what you need or how you’re feeling. Be up front about what’s going on with you and the person that you’re caring for. If you have concerns or thoughts about how to improve the situation, express them, even if you’re unsure of how they’ll be received. Start a dialogue.
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