The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP issued a joint report that said “a 49 year old woman caring for a 69 year old female relative” is the average caregiver. They are also women with children and a job. The majority of the estimated 40 million caregivers are members of the sandwich generation. These are people sandwiched between caring for their own children and taking care of their parents. Throw in partners and grandchildren and you are sandwiched in multiple full time roles. The addition of the caregiver role along with these other demands associated with this profile makes being a caregiver all the more challenging.
The challenge of balancing multiple responsibilities is real and great. Here are some management tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t be afraid to say no when you are asked to do something you know you cannot do. You are entitled to do this without heaping guilt on yourself.
- Create a list of priorities. Set daily and weekly priorities. Keep in mind while doing this that inherent in these caregiver profile is the possibility that things can change or a crisis can arise. Give yourself permission to reprioritize as circumstances change. Allow yourself some flexibility as needed.
- Remember to take care of yourself. The biggest mistake caregivers make is forgetting to take care of yourselves. If you burn out then you will not be capable of helping anyone else. If you don’t want to do it for you do it for the other people close to you that are a part of your daily life.
- Give yourself permission to ask for help. No matter how efficient and superhuman you are there are going to be moments that arise when you will need help. It does not mean you are a failure. It is important to identify other people that you can call on when needed. It may be a relative, a neighbor, a friend, or someone from church. Try using Peapod or hiring someone to help with cleaning. If you need help with caregiving consider consulting a geriatric care manager to help you assess and find the help that is needed. There is a national site to consult that will help link you to people in your area @ https://www.aginglifecare.org/ALCA/About_Aging_Life_Care/Find_an_Aging_Life_Care_Expert/ALCA/About_Aging_Life_Care/Search/Find_an_Expert.aspx?hkey=78a6cb03-e912-4993-9b68-df1573e9d8af
A key aspect for caregivers to be successful is to create a mindfulness plan. This means to incorporate techniques in your daily life that will help nurture and recharge yourself. Here are some suggestions on what you can use in your caregiver self care regime:
- Take care of your body. (Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise as best you can)
- Focus on the present. Celebrate the little victories and positive things that happen each day. It may be something small like helping a loved one get dressed or go outside. They are still victories and are worth celebrating.
- Find a kindred spirit to talk to. Identify someone in your life that you can go to and talk candidly about the good and bad things that are going on in your life. Pick someone you trust and can laugh and cry with if needed. If you don’t have someone like that in your life consider finding a counselor or therapist that can be there to offer you this all important emotional support. Chat rooms online are also a great place to get support and hear from others with shared experiences. They can empathize and may have helpful tips culled from their personal experience.
- Include joyful activities in your role as a caregiver or a parent. Choose activities you enjoy doing. Play music and dance with your kids and the person you are taking care of. If your care recipient can’t dance then pick songs you both like and sing. Find things that bring all parties pleasure and make your time together more meaningful.
- Collaborate rather than confront. This basically means pick and choose your battles. Often times caregivers will find that there are many ongoing battles particularly with people with dementia or medical problems that cause loss of mental or physical function. This creates loss of independence. Feelings of depression and anger can emerge that frequently are focused on caregivers. If the care recipient insists it is Tuesday and you know it is Thursday don’t challenge it. If they are wearing clothes that don’t match let it go. As long as what they do or say is not compromising health or safety try not to confront them.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. Role Reversal is the winner of 5 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 17 years. Find out more at her website http://iriswaichler.wpengine.com