How Caregiving Can Change Your Personality


Being a long-term family caregiver is bound to make an impact on the kind of person you are.

Some readers worry that their personality changes are negative. Yes, that can happen. There's a sneaky side of caregiver burnout. Stress, exhaustion and responsibility can take its toll.

Yet, many of the changes to a caregiver's personality will be positive and hopefully become lifelong attributes.

Below, I've given just a glimpse of changes different personality types may go through during long-term family caregiving. Much depends, of course, on personal insight, general openness to change, feelings for the person you are caring for and your own physical and mental health.

In the end, whether the changes that remain with you are positive or negative may rest with how you view life in general.

Take charge personality

For people who instinctively want to take charge of every situation, caregiving can either turn them into frustrated tyrants, or mellow their personalities to a state where the best aspects remain, but what may be an overly-aggressive approach to life can be smoothed out.

It's easy to step into the "do as I say" role with ailing parents.

After all, you know that driving is not an option for your elder. You know what medications need to be taken and that a schedule needs to be followed. You know what the weather outside is doing, therefore you know the type of clothing they should wear.

To handle these (and hundreds of other issues while caring for your parents) and not slip into an overtly "parental" mode yourself can be difficult for anyone. However, for this super-efficient personality, the challenge can be nearly overwhelming.

It's helpful to remember that there's likely no greater route to depleting the self-esteem of an ailing elder than to have their children boss them around. Therefore, it can be beneficial to consciously repeat the mantra that your parents are still your parents and they deserve to be treated as such.

Even the strongest take charge personalities can mellow somewhat, if they remember that empathy and dignity are more important than efficiency.

Kindness sometimes means not gloating over being "right." Showing respect is more important than trying to force elders to understand that which no longer makes sense to them.

It will be a challenge, but there are few rewards greater than taking time to respect the importance of the legacy of this person's life, and keeping this history in mind during the long, exhausting duties of caregiving. Doing so may eventually take the edges off of your strong personality, leaving you smart and efficient, but making you a better mate, a better friend, a better employee.

Disorganized personality

If you have a laid back, easy going personality and find yourself rather lax about organization, caregiving will likely force you to tweak your natural tendencies.

Learning the basics of at least minimal organization will help you locate a Power of Attorney (POA) for your elder quickly when needed or make certain that your parent's bills get paid on time.

It's best to start folders and keep records early in your caregiving journey, because you may find yourself mired in Medicare statements and other medical issues, as well as having to make financial decisions. To do this, you need some kind of organization and to adopt some key caregiver time management skills, even if it's a system that only you understand.

Don't worry. A bit more organization won't upend your appealing laid back personality. This need for some organization will likely make your whole life run a little smoother because it will become ingrained within you and remain, even after caregiving is over.

You will still remain you.

Timid personality

Someone who is by nature quite timid may have to learn to be more assertive with ailing parents.

Telling your parent that it's time to use the bathroom or time for medicine, especially if the parent is responding negatively, can be tough for a person with a timid personality. A more timid spouse caring for his or her mate with the more dominant personality in the pairing can also find subtly taking over the dominant role quite difficult.

Knowing that your parent or spouse needs a certain routine in order to get well, or at least endure minimal pain, may allow this type of personality to grow stronger. Knowing that loved ones depend on you to be their advocate in the outside world will give you additional motivation and courage.

You'll need to learn to cope with medical people, social workers and others whom you may never have confronted in your pre-caregiving life.

Have faith. You are up to the task. Your reticent personality that allows others lots of room to be themselves will remain, but through caregiving, you will be a stronger, more assertive version of yourself.

Did my decades of caring for multiple elders change me?

Indeed it did. There are many rewards of family caregiving. I believe the experience strengthened me and made me more assertive and organized in the advocate role. It enhanced my natural empathy toward the problems others face. It made me realize just how difficult life can be, even for the smartest, most talented person who may develop dementia or other illnesses. It helped me understand that one has to go the distance, but knowing when to ask for help can be part of that process.

While some of the depth I've hopefully gained over time could be chalked up to general maturity, I do believe that my years of caregiving have enhanced my perspective on life in general.

For that opportunity, I remain grateful.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

Minding Our Elders

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Debralee, some days I feel as you. First my apologies to anyone reading this on my language at times, but I'm being honest and will try to tone it down.

But some days, yes, I say to myself, why the hell am I doing this? I can't keep going like this. It hasn't been long, only several months, not years like others, but it has been very hard, stressful and a fast progression. Yes, I love my Mother, but some days I'm also hurting myself, with the stress from worrying, if I could stop worrying. Yes, I've started smoking just a little again and some nights I drink too much.

Next week I'm having another cardiac cath test done again because I'm not sure if it's stress or my heart again.

Yes, my one brother helps a little, but the other craphead brother, who will get 1/3 of the whole estate, does crap -- 0, while I do 90% of the work. So, that makes me angry.

While I know my Mother's only desired is to die in her own home, will it matter in the end where she really dies? We didn't have this super duper Mother daughter relationship. I mean up until age 26 my Mother and I didn't always get know Mothers and daughters -- plus I was a child of the All my life she's given more respect to my brothers because they were responsible and married and had kids, whereas I never married...which meant what in her mind? I wasn't responsible and didn't have a real life. Thanks.

But then, there are those glimmers of light, where she grabs my hands and say, oh, Rebecca, I don't know how I can ever repay you for all you do for me and the great care you give me. I see how she doesn't want to eat, but because I stress to her if she wants to die in her house, we need to keep her just healthy enough to stay home and she just eats it, even though you can see on her sweet face, she hates it. She does try to please me. Plus, she did a super job of raising us, teaching us things, such as to save and plan, etc, even though mistakes were made; but all parents make mistakes. My folks made lots of mistakes raising us, but they did not have the information, TV shows, news, magazines or knowledge in the 40s & 50s that people in later generations had on knowing how to raise children. It wasn't their fault. They did the best they knew how and that is all anyone can ask.

What's really interesting is, my parents actually raised 4 children. The first born has not been in contact with the family since 95 and even though we contacted him on my Fathers impending death in 99, he found it "inconvenient to come." He is the only one in the family with a Ph.D. Book smart, but life stupid!

More important, Debalee, when your loved one is gone, you will have the memories I have of when my Father died in 1999 and I was his 24/7 caregiver. Slept on the lazy boy in his room & ate there: only thing I didn't do was use the potty chair. My Mother was beside herself on losing him and usually just laid in bed with him.

It didn't last long. Only one week as the doc told us when we brought him home from the hospital. But you know, Debralee, there is no amount of money you could ever give me that would compare to the good thoughts and memories I have from knowing I did the best I could to help my Dad have a good death surrounded by his family, free of pain, in his own bed even laughing and joking the day before he passed.

It is very special -- though sure, damn hard -- to help someone take their last journey. You are doing the best you can and when the journey is over, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you did all you could and the best you could for the person you love. No one can take that from you and there is no replacing it. So, please, while I know it is hard, try to remember, it is worth it. Plus, I believe you will remember the good, not so much the bad.

While I truly do understand it is sometimes hard to figure the rewards of caregiving when you are going through it, believe me, they are there, especially afterward. Also, you have the knowledge of knowing that you were able to do something that so many people were not able to do.

Just one final remark on the question: How has caregiving changed your personality? Well, here I go again on the I am more of a bitch. Now first let me explain that. I am very proud of the term bitch. A B___ is a woman who takes nothing from anyone. My caregiving has me so stressed at times, that I'm not taking any crap from any one. You either help me or you get out of my way. Period. I don't care what you think of me right now, my Mother is my primary concern and anything else I don't care about.
Rewards of caregiving? Give me a break, there is none. The picture you paint, does not happen with everyday caregiving of adult parents. It is an all for one and one for none situation. Inner strength does not come from being a 24/7 caregiver, but from knowing you cannot possible be a 24/7 caregiver!
Please to all caregivers out there: what saves your sanity and preserve your well being is you take your "loved one" to adult daycare facility. So they can be watched during the day and you can get respite for yourself. It is a win win situation. If your loved one's insurance pays for adult daycare (my grandpa's medicaid pays for up to 5 days of adult daycare) then you've hit the jackpot!
Remember, "ADULT DAYCARE" is one of the secrets of surviving as a caregiver!