Our ever-changing world has altered the way we do so many things – including caring for our elderly. For many families, children live great distances from their parents. Most women work in jobs outside of the home and even in cultures where the custom of the past had been to have multi-generational families living under one roof and caring for each other, this is becoming less feasible. Caregiving for elder loved ones is something many people now do from a distance or among several other daily responsibilities. The ‘sandwich generation’ is common place with many caring for both parents and children at the same time. Caregiving can be so overwhelming at times that it can negatively effect one’s emotional and physical well being which in turn impacts the care of the senior in need.
Without doubt, the key to avoiding such difficulties is for the caregiver to ‘care’ for themselves as much as their loved ones. This, of course, is much easier said than done. How do you do this when you feel as if you are being pulled in a million different directions?
If you are in this situation, there are several things you can do that may help you navigate and cope with this often unexpected and somewhat daunting role:
1. Communicate – make sure you speak to medical personnel about concerns or issues. Ensure you have the facts. Create a support network of family, friends and others that you can talk with about your feelings and needs. Remember – avoiding or negating problems does not make them go away – it only compounds them. Let you employer know your situation as well. There may be available support groups, Employee Assistance Programs or paid family leave options available to you.
2. Educate yourself – knowledge can only empower you. Fear is often based on not knowing. Ask questions so you can understand the situation. With the technological tools of the 21st century, finding out information is as easy as sitting in front of your computer. Seek out information about your loved one’s medical condition and the options available. This will aid you in planning for the future as much as possible. Know your rights and theirs. If you are providing physical care, ensure you learn how to do this safely.
3. Ask for and accept help – sharing responsibilities is often difficult but extremely necessary for the caregiver as much as the recipient of care. Use available community resources – there may be day programs, respite care options, homemaking and a host of other services available to you. Good care can be provided by others besides the immediate family and getting this important relief is often as simple as asking for help. Keep in mind that people don’t know what you need unless you ask for it. Learn to delegate tasks to those willing to assist be it family members or friends.
4. Stress Management – acknowledge your feelings. It is okay to feel overwhelmed, sad, anxious and a host of other emotions. Learn to recognize the things that trigger a stress reaction in you and what that reaction is. It’s important to keep in mind that while you may not be able to change a situation, you can decide how you will react and respond to it. Learn the signs of ‘caregiver burnout’ and if you think you might be experiencing it or if your physical health or functioning is being affected, speak to your doctor or a trained mental health professional as soon as possible. Learning relaxation techniques may be helpful as well.
5. Life Balance – prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Organization is the key to feeling a sense of control over your situation. Accept the good with the bad. Look after yourself. Eat properly, exercise, sleep and take breaks when needed. It’s okay to do things for yourself. Don’t self-medicate. Learn to say ‘no’. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Caregiving is a learning process so allow yourself to make mistakes. Know your limits and deal with stress before crisis hits. Seek medical attention if you are ill. Consider joining a support group for those with similar struggles. You may hear valuable helpful information from others who have been where you are but also, knowing that you are not alone can help you cope.
As difficult as caregiving can be, it also has the potential to be very 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 special moments and finding enjoyment in simple pleasures can contribute tremendously to how we cope and manage what can be one of the more challenging roles in our lives.