Are You Forgetting Someone? Advice for Caregivers

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Every caregiver has a to-do list crammed with tasks. As a result, it's all too easy for them to forget one detail: themselves. Gerontologist Noam Lifshitz-Tillinger reminds us why we need to practice self-care.

Caregivers tend to share one trait in common. They usually devote themselves to the one they care for, but often forget about their own wellbeing.

I see it over and over again in my line of work. They're so invested in caregiving they neglect their mental and physical health. This is dangerous. Devoting yourself entirely to your loved one won't make you a better caregiver. It'll just push you down the path of complete burnout.

On the fast lane to total burnout

I understand that caregivers act out of kindness and goodwill. While the sentiment is admirable, it's a recipe for disaster.

You, the caregiver, start out full of vim and vigour. You want to do the best for your loved one, the same way they would if roles were reversed. Yet, as the months go by, you're exhausted. You barely have the energy to get out of bed, never mind follow passions or hobbies. Your entire life is dedicated to one thing only – caregiving.

Let's use an example with a slightly different angle. Say you were at work, and the boss asked you to take on extra responsibility. You start out well, but the boss piles more and more stuff onto your plate. Oh - and he expects you to do all this for free and doesn't offer you a promotion.

After a few weeks, you feel beaten down. Your life revolves around your bed and your desk.

This is how it feels to add caregiving to your daily routine. Suddenly, without much warning, you're expected to take on all this extra responsibility.

Everything else, like socializing and relaxing, is left to fall by the wayside.

Caregiving changes your priorities enormously and pushes your needs to the bottom of the list.

This vicious cycle feeds off the loneliness that's familiar to many caregivers. So, you must seek and build a support system to help you in the long term. Follow this advice to get started.

Who can help?

Loneliness is no stranger to caregivers, but there are many places you can seek help. Think of your support network as a circle diagram, starting with you (as the caregiver) in the middle.

Circle 1: Family

If you're looking after a relative, you can divide responsibility between your family members. Just be prepared that some will be willing to take on less than others.

If even one family member can "step up", you'll feel less weight on your shoulders immediately. Remember, asking for help without specifics can cause other family members to feel overwhelmed.

The best thing to do is to make a list of responsibilities. Then, you and your family members can divide the list between you. This is far more effective than simply saying, "Can you help?"

If your family can't agree on who does what, it may be beneficial to hire a professional. That way, family members can voice their concerns without fights. The professional will act as a mediator and will help assign tasks to each person.

Circle 2: Friends, neighbors and volunteers

You'll be surprised by how many friends and neighbors will be willing to help. They may be able to assist with small, yet stressful, tasks like grocery shopping.

Other friends and neighbors may take your loved one for short day trips or help for a couple of hours during the week.

The fact they're less close than family is an advantage. Because they're not as "emotionally involved" they'll keep a cooler head in situations that are harder for immediate family.

Circle 3: Peripheral

The peripheral circle consists of support systems the caregiver should use when needed.

For example, your doctor counts as peripheral support. They direct your loved one's treatment, including prescriptions and referral to specialists.

Your doctor can also provide a listening ear. However, if you feel like they aren’t good at communication, you may want to switch to a different doctor. You deserve care too!

You can also check out local services. You may be surprised by what's available and the number of volunteers.

If you type "help with care" into a search engine, the first few pages will take you to many helpful links.

You may also consider investing in professional help. A lawyer can help in legal matters, a physiotherapist with mobility, etc.

Most importantly, don't try to do everything alone. Seek advice and support and release the pressure. It does help, I know from experience.


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