“How can I change my mindset as a caregiver to keep it from draining me emotionally?”
Thanks for this question about being a caregiver—let me give it a shot.
Also, before you sent this question you wrote me briefly to explain you are particularly interested in caregiving as it applies to caring for aging parents—so I tried to focus on that area of care-giving in specific.
Caring for aging parents can be a rewarding and gratifying experience.
However, just how gratifying it is can depend on a lot of different issues including:
• Your own health
• Your financial resources
• Your emotional resilience
• and whether or not you are raising children (or caring for others as well).
So while being a caregiver is commendable, it is not the best option for everyone.
The Sandwich Years
The “sandwich years” is an expression that refers to middle-aged people who are both raising children of their own and caring for their parents. They are “sandwiched” between two generations, and it can often feel like a well-coordinated dance, or sometimes a vice grip.
Challenges with Caring for the Aged
There are some unique challenges to caring for aging persons. First, there is a tendency that as people age, their idiosyncrasies often become more pronounced. Those who are easygoing will most likely continue to be laid back. However, some persons can become increasingly anxious, uptight, or paranoid with age.
Second, as people undergo the aging process, they are likely to experience many transitions and even losses. Such personal losses can include lessened physical abilities, lower energy and strength, retirement (loss or career), a loss of a sense of purpose, the transition from parent to grandparent, deaths of peers and friends, a tighter financial budget, the loss of a spouse, and lowered social status.
Because of these many losses, at times caring for the elderly means providing support for grief and bereavement an elderly person may be experiencing.
Preserving Independence and Health Through the Years
Poor health and loss of independence are not inevitable consequences of growing older. There are a number of strategies to preserve health and independence for older people and their caregivers to consider. They include:
1. Early disease detection.
Older people should be encouraged to participate in any screenings recommended to them. Screening to detect diseases early- at the stage when they are most easily treated- saves many lives.
2. Healthy lifestyle.
Having a healthy lifestyle is more powerful than a person’s genes in helping people to avoid the decline usually associated with aging.
Important immunizations like flu shots or pneumonia vaccines reduce one’s risk for hospitalization and death as a result of illness.
4. Injury prevention.
Installing grab bars in key areas (i.e., bathrooms) and removing tripping hazards in the home will significantly reduce an older person’s likelihood of falling and injuring themselves.
5. Programs to aid in self-management and adaptation.
There are several counseling programs that exist in order to teach older people self-management techniques and to help them to cope with and manage the transitions that will accompany their later years.
Find the Best Possible Living Situation
In terms of determining the proper living situation for an elderly person, it is best to begin by having the caregiver and elderly person rank the person’s needs together and in order of importance. Determine how those needs could be met through minimal upheaval- often the choice is not necessary between living alone or in a nursing home.
There are actually many options in between the two extremes: care in a group home; skilled nursing care; non-medical home care for meals, cleaning or home maintenance (i.e., meals on wheels); aid at home during key hours of the day for things like bathing and dressing; assisted living or sheltered/catered care (i.e., situations that provide meals, transportation to stores, medication reminders, or other support services); shared housing with a younger, non-family member; adult daycare for those who have friends or family with them at other times; retirement home living; and senior housing complexes that are apartment complexes that provide extra support at a lower price to needy older people.
In determining the proper living situation for an elderly person, it is also important to consider that any changes in lifestyle will affect all family members involved in their life and to keep upheaval to a minimum- particularly if the family life of caregivers is already demanding or intense.
Also, it is crucial to consider all of the options and to enlist several people in the decision-making process.
Last, one should remember that giving en older person something to live for (i.e., hobbies, love, purpose) and a sense of structure and stability through schedules can add an amazing amount of confidence to an older person’s everyday life.
Abuse and Neglect in Caregiving
Financial abuse occurs when family members or friends take financial resources from an elderly person for their own benefit. It is a particular risk when the elderly person is no longer in control of his or her own finances or when they tend to become easily confused.
Elder neglect occurs when the people an older person is living with deliberately neglect their needs for food, shelter, clothing, protection from extremes in temperature, and a clean environment. This can occur inadvertently if a previously healthy spouse or live-in family member becomes sick or confused and is unable to continue providing a safe environment for the older person.
Elder abuse occurs when physical violence is directed at an older person. It could be from a family or stranger that is the older person’s caregiver, or it could be domestic violence that has been ongoing toward a victim that is now over the age of 65.
Preventing Emotional Exhaustion as a Caregiver
1. Gain Perspective
Gain some perspective on what is causing the stress and exhaustion.
“Break apart” the stress overload into manageable pieces, and begin to address each component. It might just be a couples areas of being a caregiver that are causing stress.
2. Find Purpose
One of the best antidotes to stress is finding purpose in what you are doing.
If difficulties are for a valid and greater purpose, you might find yourself having more energy to manage them.
3. Get Rest
Planned times of quiet and solitude are a good balance to a busy life.
Rest is an important component to having the mental and emotional capacity to be a caregiver.
4. Share Your Burden with Others
This can be done literally or figuratively. In other words, talking about your stressors can bring relief and support. Perhaps some of the stress is because you’re doing too much. When this occurs, try to find help!
5. Live Intentionally
Don’t major in minor things. At the end of life, many will realize that they spent most of their time on what mattered least, and the least time on what mattered most.
Decide what is really important, choose your priorities, and live for them. Become more intentional about the way you spend your time and energy. Learn to say no to things that are just not that important.
6. Remember Your Limits
Often our lives become filled with stress because we refuse to accept our limits.
Feeling overwhelmed may be a reminder that you are not living within the limits and boundaries that God has created for you. It may be time to reevaluate, cut back, say no, or slow down.
7. Laugh a Little
Allow for some levity in your life. A comic strip, a favorite saying, a joke. Keep these within sight.
8. Don’t Isolate
Caregivers often find it difficult to find the energy to get out and maintain healthy social relationships. Find the time, and spend the energy to stay connected. While there is some cost in the short term, it will help you in the long run.