Becoming a caregiver can change your life. Sometimes in small ways and sometimes in what feels like every way. To better understand how it affected one individual, reporter and blogger, Sally Abrahms shares with AARP her story of taking care of her aging parents and in-laws for 12 years.
“Caregiving brings about a swirl of feelings: sadness, frustration, anger . . . I have been overwhelmed, drained by sibling tension and torn between my own family, work, personal time and parental needs. I’ve also experienced devotion, tenderness, intimacy, gratitude, patience and purpose in my role,” says Abrahms.
In her research and writing about caretaking, she feels there are three distinct areas that companions encounter and must work through to stay healthy and continue to be able to help: grief, guilt and exhaustion.
Grief may be hard to tackle as a caregiver. The family member providing in home care, for example, “frequently grieves the loss of the person they once knew, even though their loved one is still alive,” says Abrahms. When a patient’s abilities are limited, she recommends creating new ways to relate to the person. Find appropriate activities for his or her condition that fit with your family ideals and budget such as attending free concerts or creating art together.
Feelings of guilt can begin to stack up when caring for seniors in need. There is always more need than can be filled by one person. When this happens, reaching out to one or two helping organization such as respite care, transportation services or an adult day care center is important for everyone’s mental health. “Without a network of support, caregivers often become isolated, which can lead to depression and their own serious health issues.”
Abrahms recalls, ” Caregiving often leaves the caregiver feeling depleted, both physically and mentally. For years, every other Saturday or Sunday my husband and I would pull a ‘doubleheader’: driving two hours to see my mother, then driving another hour to be with his mother, and finally getting back home by 8 that night, when I would fall into bed and not move.” Enlisting help from family and friends, and possibly hiring help, is critical for alleviating mental and physical exhaustion.
Extending home care to others can take a toll on caregivers. With help from friends, family and professionals, there are ways to make sure they get the refill needed to continue to give great care. Just don’t wait until the tank is on empty.