Family caregivers face an uphill battle. Loved ones may praise them for their selfless devotion, but offer little in the way of support. Some caregivers face criticism from other family members who themselves are unwilling to help. Many experience stress, anxiety, depression, and financial losses because of their work caring for a loved one. Despite all of this, eighty-five percent of family caregivers find it to be a rewarding experience.
Livi understands the competing pressures of caregiving. Even if you feel like no one else sees your sacrifice, know that we do. Thank you for your contribution to your loved one, your family, and to our society. Here are some simple strategies to help lighten the load.
No one can care for another person without help or support. Despite this, many caregivers feel guilty if they need a break or some help. Your well-being matters, and getting the best possible care for your loved one means depending on the help of others. If you need help, ask for it. A family member, close friend, or other loved one may be able to offer some additional support. Adult day care, respite care, or a few hours of in-home help can make a world of difference. Decide what help you need, then don’t stop looking until you find it.
Know That Self-Care Is Not Selfish
Many caregivers neglect their own health. Depression is common among caregivers, with about 60 percent showing some symptoms of depression and 20 percent meeting clinical criteria for a depression diagnosis. If you’re overwhelmed with stress or pain, you can’t provide quality care to your loved one. Self-care is an act of self-preservation that helps you support your loved one while making your own life feel less overwhelming. Commit to one act of self-care each day. Make a list of your own basic needs—healthy food, exercise, nourishing conversation—and prioritize meeting these needs, even if doing so periodically takes you away from caregiving.
Find Meaning in Simple Interactions
Your relationship with your loved one is likely not what it used to be—especially if diseases such as Alzheimer’s or aphasia undermine their ability to interact. That doesn’t mean your interactions are meaningless. Cultivate mindfulness. Focus on finding meaning in the mundane—a hand reaching for yours, a smile, a look of relief. Care recipients are as diverse as the people who care for them. Not every care recipient is great at showing gratitude, but that doesn’t mean your contribution doesn’t matter. Look for small signs of gratitude. You’ll find them.
Remind Yourself of Your Motivation
Why did you choose to be a caregiver? It’s easy to lose sight of your motivation when resentment creeps in, when loved ones don’t help, or when the work is harder than you could have imagined. You don’t have to love every moment of caregiving. That’s OK. But reminding yourself why you do this work can help keep you motivated. Make a list of why caregiving is important to you and review it every morning. If you need more motivation, consider listing the ways you have made a difference in your loved one’s life.
No person is an island. Caregiving is exhausting work. It can bring up emotions you didn’t know you had, trigger old resentments, and stoke new fears. Everyone deserves support. Call a trusted friend to vent, or schedule a regular lunch break to get some downtime. Many caregivers also benefit from the compassionate, judgment-free support of a therapist.
Connect with Other Caregivers
No one understands the challenges and triumphs of caregiving quite like another caregiver. Join a caregiver support group to get support, ideas, and reassurance that you’re not alone. Many Facebook groups are dedicated to specific ailments. Your church or community center may also sponsor a group. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers a wide range of support groups here.
Don’t Shy Away from Taking Credit
A little “thank you” goes a long way. Yet loved ones can’t thank you, or even know about your contribution, if they don’t know what you’re doing. Take credit for your good work. Share updates at family functions, and make sure loved ones understand what you’re doing.
Decide What You Can—and Can’t—Do
You are not obligated to act as nurse, doctor, therapist, best friend, and spouse to a care recipient. Especially if your loved one has a progressive illness such as dementia, there may be a point at which you can no longer be their sole caregiver. Consider listing what you are and are not willing to do. Or make a list of the signs that your loved one might need more care. When these signs finally appear, you’ll know it’s time to seek more help or move your loved one to a supportive community.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Technology has revolutionized the world of caregiving. There are tech-based solutions for many caregiving challenges, so spend some time researching your options. Automatic pill dispensers, for example, can eliminate the need to count pills and monitor medication, while still allowing you to keep an eye on your loved one’s use of prescription drugs. Tablets and smartphones can connect your loved one to the outside world. Driver services such as Lyft and Uber may reduce your need to act as chauffeur. Sometimes the best help doesn’t even require seeking assistance from another person. It may be accessible from the smartphone sitting in your pocket right now.
Decide on Your Priorities
Many caregivers feel pressured to do it all. Some take it upon themselves to single-handedly correct the injustices their care recipient faces. They want to help them become less lonely, more happy, and totally fulfilled. You can’t do it all. You can’t force another person to change their attitude. And you are entitled to say no. Spend some time each week thinking about your caregiving priorities. Then ask yourself two simple questions about each caregiving task:
Is this something I can do without hurting myself or my family?
Is this something that will make a meaningful difference in my loved one’s life?
If the answer to either of these questions is no, then the task should not be a priority.
Caregiving is challenging, but with the right support, it’s possible. For more caregiving tips and insights, check out the Livi blog.