(Editor’s note: This is the 17th in the Next Avenue “When Should You…” series on aging milestones for parents or loved ones. With our partners at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, we address common caregiving concerns.)
If you are a caregiver, it probably didn’t dawn on you that’s what you were until you were well along the caregiver path. And you could remain blissfully unaware as long as things were going well. Over time, however, things changed — dad developed diabetes, your arthritis worsened, mom’s memory deteriorated — and you started feeling time crunched, stressed out, drained.
And you began asking yourself: What am I doing wrong?
A Task for Caregivers: Recognizing Changes
Wrong question, says Judy Verba, a social worker at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.
Caregiving isn’t a job with a yearly review that tells you how you are doing. It’s a care dyad, an interdependent situation involving two unique individuals who usually have conflicting wants, needs and ideas about what caregiving and care receiving should be. It’s interactive and evolving — sometimes at the speed of light. And, for both parties, it’s usually stressful.
Despite the fact that most caregivers are doing their best, many feel guilty — about how the house looks, about not spending enough time with a loved one....
“The question should be ‘What am I doing right?’” says Verba. “Most caregivers are doing their best. When they start thinking that maybe it’s them, that they are doing things wrong, it’s usually because they haven’t realized things have changed.”
“Or,” she adds, “they have, but are in denial.”
The Caregiving Relationship
The key to successful, effective and, ultimately, less stressed caregiving is the relationship you and the person you are caring for had before you became his or her caregiver.
“If the relationship was positive — there’s trust and respect and you are comfortable around each other — you are way ahead of the game because both of you are predisposed to make the situation work,” says Verba.
Being ahead of the game doesn’t just mean both of you know each other’s strengths, limitations and emotional boundaries. It also means you understand when and how to give and receive help.
“In many cases, what caregivers want for a loved one — or think they want for themselves — doesn’t align at all with their actual wants, so that kind of understanding is important,” says Verba.
Caregiving Resources to Tap
A positive relationship is definitely the “grease” that makes things glide along. But caregivers still need information — on caregiver strategies, supports, programs and services — to ensure things glide, for both parties, in the same direction.
Closer to home, Area Agency on Aging offices, city or county departments on aging, social service agencies and condition-specific organizations (such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Arthritis Foundation and American Cancer Society) can also provide good information. Some also present no- or low-cost programs for caregivers. Many hospital and nursing home discharge departments, home care agencies and employee assistance programs provide excellent — and often free — information, too.
Every caregiver situation is different, so there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all information. “It should be a fit for your situation, strengths, abilities and resources,” says Verba. “If it isn’t — and it isn’t if you aren’t getting the results you hoped for — try something else.”
Get Over Caregiving Guilt
Despite the fact that most caregivers are doing their best, many feel guilty — about how the house looks, about not spending enough time with a loved one, about their mixed feelings about caregiving, about a whole host of things.
There are two solutions for that kind of guilt. One is even free.
“Everything can’t be perfect, so get comfortable with the idea that good enough is good enough. Or bring in outside help and let someone else take over some responsibilities,” advises Verba.
Either option is a win-win for you and the loved one in your care.
Says Verba: “It doesn’t matter if things aren’t perfect or that someone else is doing what you think you should be doing. What matters is that the person you are caring for is well, safe and able to maintain their independence.”
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This article is reprinted with permission. © 2014 Benjamin Rose Institute in Aging. All Rights Reserved.