Caring for a senior involves a mix of complex emotions. Even when a family caregiver is doing everything in their power to meet a loved one’s needs, doubt, anxiety and guilt still creep in from time to time. These feelings can become overwhelming because caregivers, well, care.
What is all too common (and unhealthy), is when caregivers allow doubt and guilt to influence their care decisions—especially when they are looking for respite care. Fortunately, there are steps caregivers can take to restore balance in their lives and feel at peace with their choices.
Reasons Caregivers Feel Guilty About Hiring Home Care and How to Address Them
Below are a few of the most common reasons why families feel conflicted when hiring in-home care and some suggestions for making the process a more guilt-free experience. Identifying the underlying cause(s) will help you understand how your care decisions may trigger unjustified guilt.
A Strong Sense of Duty and Commitment
Many family caregivers accept this responsibility because they feel they have an obligation to help the people they love. After all, family members are supposed to support one another in times of hardship, right? But, problems arise when caregivers believe this basic family value means they must do whatever it takes to see to a loved one’s care personally and at any cost to themselves. It is crucial to keep expectations for yourself realistic. An individual who is solely responsible for another person’s needs over the long term often ignores their own. This sacrifice, while well-intended, ultimately has a negative impact on the caregiver, their care recipient and other outside relationships.
When a family caregiver with a strong sense of duty seeks outside help, it can feel as if they have failed their loved one or broken an unspoken promise. However, nothing could be further from the truth. A strong caregiver is one who can acknowledge that they must care for themselves in order to provide quality care for others. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Instead of thinking of home health aides as your replacement, consider them extensions of yourself—extra sets of hands and eyes to help with supervision, caregiving tasks and chores.
Take a step back and allow other family members, friends and professional caregivers help you help your loved one. With this positive addition to the care plan, not only can time spent with your loved one become less stressful and more enjoyable, but you will have more time available to nurture other relationships, engage in self-care and pursue interests that may have been overlooked.
A Senior Who Refuses Home Health Aides
A loved one’s refusal to accept outside help can tug at a caregiver’s heartstrings. Change is often overwhelming for seniors who are set in their ways and reluctant to welcome someone new into their homes and lives. Their protests coupled with the pressure to handle all their needs yourself can be enough to scare you away from the thought of hiring a home health aide.
Gaining insight into a senior’s fears and concerns will help you address their worries directly. For example, involving them in the hiring and caregiver selection processes allows them to feel they have some control over their own care and who provides it. Knowing that your loved one feels safe and comfortable with their home health aide can minimize your feelings of anxiety and undeserved guilt.
Even if an elder continues to object or behave badly, make it very clear that this assistance is for BOTH of you. Stay strong in your decision and allow for an adjustment period. Over time, many seniors grow to enjoy the relationships they develop with their in-home caregivers.
The Cost of Home Health Aides
The decision to hire home care is difficult enough without the added concern over how to cover the cost. Even if a senior has money to spend on their care, families often feel a deep sense of guilt about using these funds to pay for outside help. Your loved one probably hoped to spend their savings on more enjoyable pursuits and possibly to leave family members an inheritance, but they set aside this money for their retirement and the “what-ifs” in life. The need for long-term care definitely counts as a “what-if,” and their funds (not yours) should be used to pay for these services.
Paying a home health aide for services similar to those a family member could provide for free or at a reduced rate may seem frivolous. However, keep in mind that in-home caregivers are trained in elder care and bring countless benefits to the family. This can be difficult to accept, but a professional may be better suited to provide the care a senior needs.
Although the cost of in-home care may appear high, respite time, your health and your peace of mind are invaluable. You are a better family caregiver when you allow yourself to take regular breaks. Hiring outside help—even for just a few hours each week—can significantly reduce your stress levels and prevent caregiver burnout. If you overextend yourself, causing your physical and/or mental health to fail, who will fill your shoes? Will your loved one need to move to a pricey senior living community to get the care they need?
Knowing that there are several different ways to pay for home care can also alleviate some of this hesitancy. Medicare, veterans benefits, Medicaid and long-term care insurance are just a few resources that cover care provided in the home. Spend some time researching payment options, evaluating your loved one’s care needs and establishing a realistic budget.
Overcoming Unnecessary Caregiver Guilt
Difficult feelings associated with caregiving are entirely normal, but don’t get bogged down by negativity or self-criticism. All you can do is your very best to ensure your loved one receives quality care, regardless of who is providing it and where. There are only so many options available for elder care. In many cases, in-home care is one of the most flexible, reasonably priced and beneficial. It allows family caregivers to enjoy valuable respite time and peace of mind while enabling seniors to continue living as safely and independently as possible in their own homes.
Caregivers who become overwhelmed by their responsibilities are at high risk for caregiver burnout. Someone who is physically and mentally exhausted is not capable of providing high quality care, so make a point of doing things that promote your own well-being and help you recharge. Hiring outside care can give you this opportunity, but not if you beat yourself up over the decision.
Whether it is self-imposed or comes from outside sources, any guilt you experience over care decisions (like hiring a home health aide), is likely unwarranted and will only cause you needless stress. Learn to differentiate between guilt that is rational or productive and caregiver guilt that is undeserved. Practice setting boundaries, engaging in self-care and letting go of unrealistic expectations. If you need help in these areas, consider working with a mental health professional, attending a local support group, or joining AgingCare’s online forum to connect with other caregivers, share experiences, get advice and find emotional support.