Being a full-time caregiver to a disabled or elderly family member can be difficult on both the recipient and the caregiver. At times it feels like you are being torn between being a family member and being a caregiver. Despite how much you love your family member; occasionally the stress levels may seem like more than you can handle. As a six year part-time, and two year full-time caregiver to my mother, I have learned a few dos and don’ts of being a family caregiver.
Don’t think that you can do it all by yourself.
Sometimes it feels like all the responsibility falls on you. You may feel that it would inconvenience other members of your family to ask them for help. But, trying to care for someone else 24 hours a day, seven days a week alone is the fastest route to caregiver burnout.
Don’t feel guilty.
There may be times and situations when you feel a crushing amount of guilt. Having to make your loved one do the right thing for their health or well-being can be very emotional; especially if it causes them pain or is a major lifestyle change. Talk to your loved one; explain that you are sorry things are difficult for them. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to help. Feeling guilty in these situations will only add to your own stress level.
Don’t take your emotions out on your family care recipient.
It is very easy to deflect your anger, fear or annoyance onto the person you spend the most time with. If your feelings are not about them, don’t treat them as if they are. Misdirecting your emotions will only be detrimental to everyone.
Don’t treat them like a two year old.
Adult care recipients do not respond well to constantly being told what to do. They also don’t like having someone else do everything for them. Give them gentle reminders. Assist with difficult tasks. Allow them as much independence as possible.
Don’t give in.
Caring for a family member can be even more difficult when you feel torn between responsibility and love. I have heard the statement, “if you love me; you won’t make me do this,” on more than one occasion in the last eight years. This can be the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking phrase ever uttered. Difficult situations are emotional for both of you. As the caregiver, you have to know that doing the responsible thing is a great act of love.
Do be firm.
When challenges arrive, be firm. Do not demand. Do not act mean or be a bully. Stand your ground. Don’t let fear or guilt cause you to be relaxed in your responsibilities. It is easy to get caught up in a stressful moment and use anger or threats to convey your emotions. Take a deep breath, find your inner strength. Do what needs to be done calmly and compassionately.
Do be informed.
You have to know what medications, diet and exercise your loved one requires. Research their conditions. Find out what information you need to know about their health right now, as well as, what changes may come in the future. Ask questions of their medical providers. Keep a journal so all of the important facts are close at hand. This can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.
Do ask for help.
You will need help. If you can’t ask family or friends to help you when you need it, seek help elsewhere. In most areas of the United States you can dial 211 and they will help you locate resources in your area. Find senior recreation centers, support groups or community centers that offer programs from counseling to field trips.
Do give love.
At times you may feel that you have become more caregiver and less family member. That the routines and responsibilities involved in providing care take up all of your time and emotions. Remember that you are caring for your loving family member. Don’t forget to make time for the activities and traditions that make your relationship special.
Do make time for yourself.
Do something you enjoy every day: even if you can only manage 20 or 30 minutes of free time. Taking care of you makes it easier to take care of someone else.