As an internationally recognized caregiving expert who has been in the field for over two decades – and written the highly acclaimed book “The Caregivers Survival Handbook” – I can promise you that taking care of the caregiver is certainly one of the most important aspects of your caregiving journey!
Currently there are over 44 million “caregivers” caring for an aging loved one in the United States — nearly one in four U.S. households is involved in caring for a relative or friend aged 50 or older. It’s estimated that more than 80 million people in the U.S. will have two or more chronic conditions by the year 2020.
Clearly many caregivers are caught between the needs of their young families and the daunting task of caring for their elderly relatives. Watching a loved one grow old is filled with emotional upheaval, and when you compound that with other stresses—rush-hour traffic, deadlines, sick children, dirty laundry—caregivers are often left holding the bag. They feel a pressure to be all things to all people, often ending up as the martyr and giving themselves the short end of the stick.
Caregiving is largely a women’s issue. Some 72 percent of caregivers are female, mostly wives and adult daughters. The average age of a caregiver is 47. More than one in three, however, are mature adults themselves (65 years of age and older). Caregiving can last from less than a year to over forty years. 80 percent of caregivers provide at least some type of unpaid assistance seven days a week. By 2030 one in five Americans will be at least 65, for a total of approximately 70 million older people, more than twice the number than hit 65 in 1996.
Although it’s been well documented that the need for informal or “family caregivers” will rise exponentially over the next few decades, unfortunately the availability of this type of caregiver is expected to rapidly decline. Five social trends are affecting the projected serious decrease in the supply of unpaid caregivers in the future:
- Increasing divorce and remarriage rates
- Increasing geographic mobility
- Decreasing family size
- Delayed childbearing
- More women in the workplace
The stress on a caregiver can be devastating, especially if they are considered to be the primary caregiver in the family and have limited time due to their job and/or other familial responsibilities. The most common feeling informal primary caregivers have toward aging loved ones is guilt. Guilt can be destructive, making one feel tired, weak and immobile.
No matter how much you do, there may be times when you tell yourself that you could do better.
Personally, having been a primary caregiver myself for over 10 years, I suggest you try to not only recognize – but if at all possible – accept these feelings of guilt. Without recognition, guilt can be a destructive force. Know where these feelings a coming from and be aware that you are not alone in having such thoughts. The following tips will guide you on your way to saying goodbye to caregiver guilt.
Acknowledge your feelings. Negative feelings can make us feel uneasy and guilty, but it’s important to understand that feelings of anger and resentment are natural and common. Unless these feelings control us, and our behavior toward our parents, they are not bad.
Think quality, not quantity. If you’re feeling guilty that you aren’t spending enough time with your aging loved ones, think of how you can improve the quality of your time together. Spending time reminiscing with your mother or playing a game of checkers with your father, for example, may mean more than cleaning their kitchen or delivering a pot roast.
Establish priorities. While no one has the time or energy to do everything for everybody, you must find time (and energy) to do the things that are most important to you. By establishing priorities – and allowing some flexibility for the unexpected – you can help ensure that the most important needs are met and the most important tasks get done.
Set limits. If your loved ones constant demands are running you ragged, decide (and clearly acknowledge) what you are able and willing to do for them. By setting limits and standing behind them, you can help reduce the guilt trips that come when you can’t meet their every demand.
Redefine your concept of caring. If you find it difficult to provide loving, ‘hands-on’ care for your parent, don’t feel guilty – simply think of other tangible ways you can help provide for their care.
Act from love, not from a sense of debt. If you think of caring for an aging loved one as repayment for all they’ve done for you, you’ll always end up in the red. Instead, think of caregiving as one person helping another out of love.
Forgive and seek forgiveness. If your parent was abusive or uncaring when you were a child, now is the time to forgive – even if you truly feel he or she doesn’t deserve it. Holding grudges will not only affect your ability to care for your aging loved one, but it will also hurt you.
Foster their independence. Don’t feel guilty for not doing things for your loved one that they could be doing for themselves. Instead, look for ways to help them do what they can. Something as simple as a $1.29 pill dispenser can help your parent become more independent – and can free up precious time for you.
Face the facts. Despite how much you want to help, sometimes your aging relative needs round-the-clock care and constant supervision that you can’t provide. When that happens, acknowledge that someone (or some place) may be better equipped to provide the majority of your parent’s care than you are.
Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Acknowledge, but don’t be unduly influenced by, the advice you get from friends and coworkers. Do what your heart tells you is best and what your circumstances permit.
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