As life expectancies increase, medical treatments advance, and increasing numbers of people live with chronic illness and disabilities, more of us find ourselves caring for loved ones at our home or theirs. Many of you know that being a caregiver to a loved one whether it is your child, parent or grandparent can be rewarding. You can spend time with them, take pride in being able to give back to them and care for them as they cared for you. There is also a flip side to being a caregiver. It can be exhausting, emotionally draining, and interfering with other family times, careers, and your own health. Especially if you feel you have no control over the situation. Day after day you provide care and attention, improving your loved one’s quality of life, even if they’re unable to express gratitude.
Often caregivers, suddenly are put in a position of caregiving without anticipation of the situation beforehand. This is a set-up for burnout quickly. Regardless of your circumstances, being a family caregiver is a challenging role and likely one that you have not been trained to undertake. You do not need to be a nurse, expert, or a superhero to be a good family caregiver. With the right help and support, you can be an effective, efficient, loving caregiver without sacrificing your needs in the process. Having a careful worked out plan and balancing the load can help prevent your risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other health issues, all signs of burnout, in the long run. There are steps that you can take you can take to rein in burnout. What do you do to make a plan that works for your caregiving efforts?
Becoming a Family Caregiver
First step is to recognize yourself as a caregiver. If you take care of someone who has a chronic illness or disease, manage medications or talk to doctors and nurses on someone’s behalf, help with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, meal, household chores or assist with bills any one or all of these tasks, you are a caregiver. Many people have trouble accepting that they are a caregiver, not just a daughter, son, or spouse. Know that the heart of your relationship will always remain even if you do become their caregiver. There are those who say that they became “the parent to their parent”, that is not true. Your parent will always be your parent. Thinking of them as your child does not benefit either of you nor is it helpful. Others feel that they are just doing what is expected of them, what anyone you would do, and that I am not doing anything special. But the reality is you are doing way more complicated things today to be a caregiver that in the past was expected.
You may say, “Why is it important that I see myself as a caregiver?” Being a family caregiver gives you more rights and authority when dealing with health care and social service agency staff. You have the right to get information about your family member’s condition and to be involved in decision making about care. You become an essential team player with the health care team and have the right to be trained to provide care. When you are a caregiver you can find support services that you might not have knowledge of otherwise.
Second accept your feelings. Caregiving can bring out many difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. You need to acknowledge and come to grips with what you are feeling. Be honest with your self and don’t beat yourself up over your doubts and misgivings. It does not mean you love your family member less. It means you are facing a reality that you need to settle. How am I going to do this? What is it going to cost me? Am I capable? Why me and not someone else? Anger and resentment are real feelings that many caregivers must deal with. Also, you maybe having to deal with the fact that a parent is not going to be around forever for the first time. This can cause grief, plus grief can come in the form of the loss of your own dreams and goals that you have set aside to be a caregiver. Take time to process your feelings. You may know that some of your feelings are irrational, but they are real feelings you are dealing with. Other feelings such as anxiety and worry need a preventative plan to address the concerns to be proactive. When you have a solid plan that can be measured you will have less guilt. Take time to talk to God and get some answers settled with Him. Ask for help from Him and accept it when it comes. No matter what form it comes in. When you are at peace with your thoughts and emotions you can be at peace with your situation.
Thirdly find caregiver support even if you are the primary family caregiver, you will not be able to do everything on your own. You will have to consider the situation how far do you live from your loved one? If you do not live in the same home, it will be a stretch. You will need to from others. Getting the help, you need will prevent burnout. Not getting help will cause you to be a overwhelmed caregiver. Burnout causes fatigue, mistakes, forgetfulness, and snappiness. When you take the time to care for yourself you are in turn caring for your loved one.
Develop a Plan
Now that you have taken on more responsibilities you will need to have a plan to know how to be successful in provided for all and caring for yourself. You will need to develop a respite plan so that you have some time off that you can relax and recharge. You can involve siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, and aunts. It helps if early on that you start scheduling breaks and not get to the burnout state where you may get upset and make a situation tougher than it needs to be.
- Understand your loved one’s needs and your needs. Make a list of your loved one’s needs. Is it housekeeping? Taking to appointments? Being there during visits from nurses, therapies, and aide services. Make a list of all you do for your loved one so that anyone could come and look at your list and complete task you do.
- Make a list of your needs so that family and friends know up front what you need and how they can help. Many people are willing to help but without a plan the caregiver is usually so efficient that many people feel like they are in the way and stay away. Help other be of help by making a clear picture of help needed and how they can accomplish it. Make sure that you are allowing yourself time with your own family.
- Make a list of family and friends including out of town family. If they are unable to come in and physically help, see if they are willing to pay for someone to do their part of the care when they are unable to come in.
- Have a meeting with the entire family even out of town family members with Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. Make clear what you need help with and what agencies, such as Agape Home Helpers that are available and what the cost of the services will be if anyone needs to use a service to help with their portion of care. Be as detailed as possible of the care needed for your loved one. Be prepared to answer questions and encourage them to ask anything they want. Remember some of your feelings and that you have had time to work through so they may ask some questions that can sting because they have not had the same time to deal with feeling. Be honest and let them know that you have had some time to work through some of your own feelings and that you realize they may need some time also. Make sure that they understand what is being asked and encourage discussions and brainstorming how to make this easier on everyone.
- Now days making a usable schedule that everyone can see from anywhere is easier than previously. Use an online scheduler that everyone can have access to. Send a link via email to your family and friends that will be participating in the schedule.
Once everyone has a schedule, they can go to their workplaces and explain what they need to balance workplace with caregiving. If you know you never work weekends you may just take the weekends. However, having a solid plan of how to work your schedule will prevent headaches for everyone. You may have neighbors, friends at church, longtime friends that your loved one has enjoyed visits with that are willing to help. When people say let me know if you need anything. Let them know what you need.