Taking Care Of The Caregiver
In this final article of the two-part series about caring for aging parents, we focus on caring for the caregiver.
Taking care of an aging parent can be a challenging time for a family and if the caregivers don’t tend to their own needs, according to Lori Zimmerman, senior information and referral specialist with ElderLink St. Louis, over time things will only get worse.
“All family members have to know that things will change. As a parent ages his or her needs will change. You need to stay in touch with each other to re-evaluate these needs,” Zimmerman said.
Needs Assessment And Action Plans
To start the process of assessing your parent’s requirements, begin with a review of your parent’s physical, financial, social and emotional needs. ElderLink can provide you with a checklist of items to discuss with your parent as well as referrals to professionals who can provide this service.
Zimmerman recommends starting with some basic questions such as “Are you having any trouble getting your meals prepared? How are the steps for you? Are you getting out to the store, church/synagogue okay? Has your lawyer put together powers of attorney, your will, a health care directive, etc.?”
Once you complete gathering information, meet with family members to discuss what’s needed. Part of this process includes establishing your own parameters on what you’re willing and able to do to help your parent. Depending on the family dynamic, it may help to divide up what needs to be done.
“It seems to work out in families that one person is the point person, or project manager,” she said. “In other families dividing up responsibilities among caregivers works too. Family members state what they’re capable of doing. One person might offer to handle all transportation needs and trips to the doctors. Another might volunteer to make sure the home healthcare worker shows up and gets paid. A family member who lives out of town and can’t offer in-person assistance might handle financial and legal documents.”
Guilt And Caregiver Stress
Guilt can play a big role in taking care of mom or dad which is one reason why Zimmerman recommends setting expectations up front.
“You don’t ever want to go into this situation saying ‘I’m just going to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of’ because the needs are just going to get bigger and bigger. It helps to have someone to vent to who’s not the parent such as a partner/spouse, best friend or therapist. If you have a significant amount of guilt a counselor can be wonderful,” Zimmerman advised.
Some of the warning signs that you’re not taking care of yourself include:
- Feelings of anger about the situation; but if anger’s becoming a regular and difficult thing for you to handle then that’s a sign there’s a problem.
- Guilt becomes so overwhelming that you’re unable to meet the needs of your parent even though you want to.
- Isolating yourself from what used to be regular activities.
- Care giving is causing problems at your job.
- Experiencing other stress indicators such as putting on or losing weight, not sleeping
- Family dynamics are strained.
- Feeling depressed more than acceptable, feelings of hopelessness.
- Feeling exhausted.
- Loss of interest in things; you don’t even care anymore that you can’t see your friends or meet for lunch or play golf.
The good news is that there are resources in our area to help you.
“Respite care exists to give people a break from care giving,” Zimmerman said. “It can be either someone coming into the home to do what you’ve been doing, or assisted living or skilled nursing facilities where your parent can check in for a few days so you can get away on vacation. There’s also adult day service if you have to work during the day or just need a break. If your parent is totally active, there are senior centers for socialization.”
She said that some seniors may even be eligible for benefits to cover adult care; ElderLink can go over what kinds of benefits are available.
Zimmerman also recommends these strategies to avoid caregiver burnout:
- Find a caregiver support group.
- Build time in your schedule for yourself.
- Set aside time to do something physical like take a walk or go to the gym.
- Schedule time for friends.
- Pamper yourself whether that means a day at the spa or going to the ballgame.
- Learn about your parent’s illness so you can understand behavior changes; knowledge it will make it easier for you to accept the changes.
- Make time to laugh.
- Ensure you don’t isolate yourself from the people and things that have meaning in your life.
- Go to counseling.
Finally, print out the Caregiver’s Bill of Rights, below, and post it where you can see it everyday:
Caregiver’s Bill of Rights by Jo Horne
I have the right:
- To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capability of taking better care of my loved one.
- To seek help from others even though my loved ones may object. I recognize the limits of my own endurance and strength.
- To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for this person, and I have the right to do some things just for myself.
- To get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally.
- To reject any attempts by my loved one (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, and /or depression.
- To receive consideration, affection, forgiveness, and acceptance for what I do, from my loved ones, for as long as I offer these qualities in return.
- To take pride in what I am accomplishing and to applaud the courage it has sometimes taken to meet the needs of my loved one.
- To protect my individuality and my right to make a life for myself that will sustain me in the time when my loved one no longer needs my full-time help.
- To expect and demand that as new strides are made in finding resources to aid physically and mentally impaired persons in our country, similar strides will be made towards aiding and supporting caregivers.