Being a family caregiver for an aging adult is a selfless act of love, but nobody ever said it was easy. And while no one can deny that it’s a challenge, it doesn’t have to be one that steals your peace of mind.
The first step in remaining calm and focused while providing care is to accept and really own the choice you’ve made. If you truly don’t feel caregiving is for you, start looking at other options. But if you’re planning to carry on, you may find the tips below helpful for maintaining your sense of well-being amidst caregiver stress.
A Caregiver’s Sanity-Preservation Tips
Acknowledge the role switch. If the person you’re providing care for is your aging mother or father, then for much of your life, they took care of you. Now, things are turned around, and you’re the one supervising them. Acknowledge that this role switch[1. “How ‘Role Reversal’ or Other Catch Phrases Skew Your Thoughts,” https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/Don-t-let-Role-Reversal-and-Other-Catch-phrases-Skew-your-thinking-113670.htm]comes with uncomfortable feelings at first. You’ll also need to adjust your expectations of the parental role. If you turned to Mom or Dad for a certain type of solace or support in the past, you may need to find an alternative support method if they are no longer able to provide it.
Don’t expect things to change overnight. Accept that adjusting to these new roles (and the responsibilities associated with them) will take a while. Just as your parent learned how to take care of children, you will learn how to take care of them. As time goes on, you’ll both learn what works best for you. No caregiver-caregivee relationship is perfect right off the bat, especially when those involved were already used to previous roles as parent and child.
Be prepared for their emotional reaction. Although you may think that your loved one should be grateful to have found a caregiver, their emotions may not be so straightforward. Anger and displays of ingratitude are more likely to crop up than not, but this doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. It’s simply the natural consequence of your loved one having trouble accepting this new stage in their life, and this role reversal. That being said, it may benefit your frame of mind if you didn’t expect thank-yous (not that you don’t deserve them!). It’s just that expressing them may serve as a reminder to your loved one of just how much things have changed.
Expect some family friction. When you’re a new caregiver, it can be a surprise to uncover emotional resistance from the person you’re looking after. However, you may find that other family members have equally strong emotions (and opinions) about the way you’re providing care. Have a plan for what to say or do if they start offering unsolicited advice. A good rule of thumb is that if they’re not willing to pitch in,[2. “Top 3 Excuses From Siblings Who Don’t Help With Caregiving,” https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/siblings-conflicts-caregiving-for-elderly-parents-142138.htm] they get no say in how you go about caregiving.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The poet John Donne said, “No man is an island,” and that goes double for caregivers! If you need help, reach out to other (supportive) friends, family members, community groups, and home care agencies. You’d be surprised how much better life (and your state of mind) becomes when even a few small tasks are taken care of for you.
It is Possible to Stay Sane While Being a Caregiver
It might feel like a thankless struggle some days, but coming into caregiving with the right frame of mind can definitely help you keep your mental well-being. You are not alone in your desire to be emotionally stable while filling this role—nor are you alone when trying to attain it. Consider talking to other caregivers, or even joining a group of them that meets on a regular basis. You may find yourself sharing and receiving additional tips that keep you not only sane, but happy!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.