Senior Beat: Caring for the caregivers
By Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
Recently a friend told me she “helps out” her mother. I mentioned how hard caregiving can be and she said, “Oh no. I’m not a caregiver.”
As the population ages, more and more people are finding themselves in the role of helping their parents, spouses, loved ones or elderly friends. Essentially being a caregiver. But what does that mean exactly? Many people define it as in-house round-the-clock care. But caregiving is much more diverse.
Take a look at the following questions. If you answer yes to one or more, you can be classified as a caregiver. And that means the sooner you realize it for what it is, the sooner you can get support systems in place should you need them down the road.
Do you drive an older person to medical appointments?
Do you prepare meals on a regular basis and try to make sure that the person is eating properly?
Do you help with cleaning and laundry?
Do you help with bathing and/or dressing?
Do you make sure that medications are being taken properly?
There are many reasons that people become caregivers. Whether caregiving is done out of love, out of a sense of obligation or simply because there is no one else to perform these duties, the role itself can be enormously rewarding, but it can also be stressful, frightening and frustrating. Seeing an ill or aging loved one become increasingly dependent on outside help may give way to fear, anger and subsequent guilt.
Often caregivers have children and jobs that require large amounts of time. Include care-giving duties in the mix and it can be a recipe for burnout. It’s not easy. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally draining. It’s hard to see mom and dad change, become more dependent. It’s hard to be responsible for so many things at once. It’s hard to cope with the worry that becomes a constant companion.
There are some things that you can do, however, to ease the strain.
First, watch for the signs of burnout. If you are unusually tired, cranky, quick- tempered or overly emotional it may be time to reach out and talk to someone. Confiding in a trusted friend or professional can be helpful if you find yourself becoming discouraged or over-burdened.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Often friends and family members are willing to pitch in but just are not sure what to do. Make a list of things you need and ways in which they can help. Simple things, such as picking up a pizza for dinner, can relieve some of the pressure.
Most importantly, be sure to take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise and get enough rest. Take a little time for just you. Even 30 minutes of doing absolutely nothing but staring at a wall can feel great, if you allow yourself the time to do it.
And do not feel guilty about it because this break is critical in order for you to preserve your physical and mental well-being. It may seem like just one more thing on an already overloaded “to do” list but trust me and make this a priority.
Eastern Area Agency on Aging has a caregiver program that can provide you with tools and information to help you in your caregiver role. They can make important referrals, offer education on certain situations like Alzheimer’s disease, and give you someone to talk to. These specialists tailor the program to suit the individual. There are caregiver support groups, and occasionally classes for people caring for a loved one with dementia.
If you find yourself caregiving and feeling the strain, call EAAA at 1-800-432-7812. Handle the little problems before they become big problems.
Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns a Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at email@example.com.