Are you prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for a family member? Will you be able to handle the commitment of moving your parent(s) in with you? How will you know when caregiving has become too much to handle? Will caregiving negatively impact your relationships with immediate family members? When is it time to think about other elder care arrangements?
When aging parents, or an ill family member need help, many of us dive into caregiving with full hearts and little forethought. Sometime later, we come to realize that we’ve been in this role for months or even years and that it has changed us and our lives in striking ways. As a family caregiver, you must take a step back and have a frank talk with yourself. Doing some honest soul searching can help you sort out your priorities, set goals for your loved one’s care, and establish boundaries that will safeguard your own physical and mental health.
Of course, other people’s needs and desires will factor into your care decisions to some extent. However, clarifying your own position will help you find common ground while caregiving. The sooner you have this conversation with yourself, the better.
Questions a Family Caregiver Should Ask Themselves
- Do you have children at home? What are their needs and how does caregiving impact your ability to meet them?
- Do you have a supportive spouse or partner, a negative partner, or no partner? How does this relationship affect your caregiving, and how does caregiving affect your relationship?
- How do you plan to make time for yourself while caregiving? Are you able to factor in “alone time” to recharge, time for your social life, time for your work, and time for your family responsibilities and relationships?
- Where do you need to draw the line and say, “I can do this much and no more”? You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can always control how you respond to them.
- How do you plan to continue maintaining and improving your own physical and mental health? You, too, must be a priority.
Know When to Seek Help
The questions above address important issues at the very heart of caregiving. Unfortunately, many of these concerns do not arise until family caregivers are feeling overwhelmed and depleted or until some area of their lives begins to deteriorate noticeably. Caregiver burnout is notoriously subtle. Once you’re already physically and emotionally spent, problem solving becomes even more difficult.
Keep in mind that your goals, abilities and personal limits are likely to change over time. After all, caring for an aging loved one tends to get more and more difficult. It is wise to revisit these questions and take inventory of how your caregiving responsibilities, relationships, emotions and physical health have evolved. There may come a time when our care recipients need more help than we can give them. Accepting this truth is not easy, but it is crucial, not only for the health and safety of your loved one, but also for your own well-being.
Acknowledging that you need help is not indicative of “failure.” The reality is that many family caregivers are the sole care providers for their loved ones, but one person simply cannot do it all (even if they make sweeping personal sacrifices). While caring for a family member may not seem like a choice, you do have options. Leave no stone unturned until you get some help, whether it consists of short bouts of respite care, hiring an in-home aide or finding a permanent new home for your loved one in senior living.
Caregiver Support Programs
If you are struggling to cope with feelings of caregiver guilt and/or burnout, look for sources of caregiver support. In-person and online caregiver support groups may not be able to provide hands-on help with your loved one, but they are sources of invaluable guidance and advice. Connecting with fellow family caregivers who understand what you are going through will combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Counseling is beneficial for many family caregivers as well. A mental health professional can assist you with sorting through the difficult questions above, unpacking your emotions surrounding caregiving, and improving your boundary-setting, problem-solving and communication skills. Therapy is especially important if you are struggling with caregiver burnout, resentment, anxiety and/or depression.
When looking for caregiver support programs, your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is a great place to start. Your AAA can point you to a variety of community, state and federal resources that support seniors and their family caregivers.
Regardless of your personal situation, all caregivers could benefit from some honest self-reflection and incorporating more balance into their lives. Your instinct may be to keep your head down and power through your caregiving duties, but ignoring your physical and emotional needs will only cause more problems in the long run. You are important and can make your own choices. Make a renewed commitment to yourself and your loved one by seeking out respite care and caregiver support programs. These decisions will benefit both of you if you stick to them.