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Caring for an elderly or incapacitated loved one is an important but potentially overwhelming task. It’s easy to become completely absorbed by all of your caregiving responsibilities and ignore your own needs. This can lead to your own world shrinking and becoming entirely focused on the other person, at the expense of your own well being. You may start to feel stressed and resentful and wish to share the load.
Just as we are instructed to fit our own oxygen mask before helping others in a plane, the same goes for caregiving. Caregiver burnout is a very real phenomenon. If there is a person requiring regular care in your family, it is important to share the responsibility and the practical execution of the care. It is too much for one person to do, even if they are a spouse, or the only single child in the family.
We all need to find ways to de-stress in difficult long-term situations, and caregivers are no exception. To ensure your loved one gets the best care, and the caregivers are supported, try the following:
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Get enough sleep, eat nutritious meals, get some exercise every day, keep up with your own medical, dental, and vision care, and have regular time out are key to giving you the physical strength and stamina to provide care for your loved one. This is not selfish, it is essential. Identify how long you need to do these things every day and make sure there is adequate scheduled cover. If other family members are not available to help, speak to your GP and enlist the help of community and government services.
Enlisting outside help is often a very unpopular move, both with extended family and the affected person. However, professional caregivers are qualified and able to give you the space you need to play your role well.
Pay Attention to Your Emotional Needs
As with any job, you need to rest and recharge. Keep in touch with friends or family who will be able to offer news and conversation that is not about your caregiving. Take the time you need to care for your own emotional health. If you find yourself feeling angry and resentful over your situation, it’s essential to talk about it. Make use of community resources, if necessary, to find a support group or counsellor to help you cope.
Be Extremely Organised
Caregivers’ days are typically filled with multiple chores and appointments, along with a huge number of little regular tasks. Helping an incapacitated or elderly person can make regular tasks far more time consuming, and at times frustrating.
Use a calendar and to-do list to make sure that you aren’t sidetracked and forget something. Trying to keep lots of little details in your head is stressful and tiring, and doesn’t allow for others to help you out. Whether you prefer the traditional paper options, a computer-based system, or an app for your smartphone, once your tasks and appointments are recorded, you’ll likely start to de-stress.
Take Time Out
Employers must provide days off for their workers and reasonable working hours. Just because a person requires round the clock care, that task cannot fall to just one person. There’s no reason to feel guilty if you need some time away from caregiving.
Some rest homes provide respite care, where your loved one can go for a day, week or extended period, which allows caregivers a rest. They will be safe and well cared for, and as a caregiver, you can go off duty for a while.
Try not to feel guilty; your loved one may enjoy the change as much as you do.
As For Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It does not mean you’re not a good enough caregiver. It’s part of being human. Turn to family, friends, and community resources to fill in when you simply don’t have the time or energy to do the job properly.