For the Stressed Family Caregiver: 3 Things That Could Be Sabotaging Your Caregiving Ability

Being a family caregiver isn’t easy. If you’ve been a caregiver for even a short amount of time, you’ve probably been tossed into a world of geriatric medicine, time management issues, and legal limbo.[1. “A Checklist of Some Legal Issues for Seniors and Their Family Caregivers,” November 25, 2010,] Challenges are thrown at you left and right, and sometimes it can feel like you’re barely managing to meet them. But sometimes, it’s not these challenges that hamper your ability to look after the one you love. Sometimes, other hidden issues could be sabotaging you — learn how they keep you from being the caregiver you want to be and how you can handle them.

You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Lack of sleep is a common affliction among caregivers and not just because of all the duties they have to perform. If you live with an older adult, you may quickly find your sleep cycle mimicking theirs. If their sleep cycle is off or broken, both of you can find yourselves getting far less rest than your bodies require.
This lack of rest is far more than just something that can make you both irritable and grumpy. For the older adult, it can lead to a poorer state of health over time, putting them at risk for everything from heart disease to depression. For the caregiver, not only can their physical and mental health be impaired, but so can their ability to manage essential caregiving tasks.
The first step to deal with this is to make sure your loved one has good “sleep hygiene.” Talk to them about decreasing caffeine intake, especially later in the day. A comfortable mattress, peaceful sleep environment, and lack of stimulating activities before bed can all be helpful — if your sleep habits also need some care, you should make this second step alongside your loved one. If problems persist, the third step is to review medications with their doctor to make sure they aren’t interfering with their sleep.

You Try to Do It Alone

Many caregivers find themselves trying to fulfill their roles all by themselves, either by choice, force, or habit. Not only is this the fast-track route to burnout where you won’t be able to cope with any roles, it’s also an inefficient way to be a caregiver. The job is best performed when a variety of people who chip in, lending their time, effort, and expertise. Possible solutions include:

  • Asking friends and family for help
  • Joining a caregiver support group
  • Asking doctors and geriatric social workers about community resources
  • Checking eligibility for public resources and benefits

You Don’t Prepare for Failure

There’s no doubt that being a caregiver can be stressful. In addition to the emotional strain that comes from witnessing the deteriorating health of a loved one, there are many logistical, financial, and legal considerations to navigate. Sometimes, it seems like it takes all of your time and effort just to get through the day, let alone think about next week or next month. Caregivers who are having a difficult time should remember to be kind to themselves — some failure is usually inevitable when caring for a loved one. But by anticipating problems before they occur, and making a plan to address them, you have a much better chance of overcoming them. Then, little by little, the individual days will become easier. Consider doing the following:

  • Make a Plan B. This includes contingencies for what to do if your loved one experiences a health crisis, a decrease in abilities, or has financial difficulties.
  • Be aware of your loved one’s condition. If your loved one has dementia, for instance, it’s important to be familiar with the stages, so you know how to provide care for each one.
  • Seek out resources in advance. Make a list of people, organizations, and programs willing to help if a crisis or downward spiral presents itself.

Deal with Family Caregiver Issues Promptly for Better Results

Most people start out with the best intentions when they became a family caregiver. As a caregiver, you want to protect the health, happiness, and well-being of your loved one. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of your own. Don’t let small issues become big ones over time; deal with the problems listed above promptly. By doing so, you can avoid larger issues like burnout or nursing home placement from affecting the entire family.[2. “The Effects of Nursing Home Placement on Family Caregivers of Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease,” July 21, 2001,]
If you’re unsure how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

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