How Long Until You Shouldn’t Go It Alone
Many people are caregivers and they may not even realize it. With the push for shorter hospital stays and the costs associated with healthcare, more and more families are opting for caregivers who aren’t trained healthcare professionals. More than 77.7 million Americans provide care for loved ones.
Caregiving can mean helping with simple tasks such as shopping, cooking and running errands, but it can extend all the way to providing assistance with bathing, toileting and dressing. A caregiver is an unpaid individual (a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor) involved in assisting another with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.
Caregiving can be rewarding, challenging, confusing and overwhelming all at the same time. Just as your loved one will advance through various stages of aging, caregivers progress through many phases as well.
STAGE ONE -Basic Caregiving
Is your loved one having difficulty performing activities that were once routine?
Do you feel as if you are “just helping out,” assisting in areas such as banking, bill paying, shopping and transportation? You are likely in the early stages of caregiving.
During stage one, you may experience positive emotions, such as feeling a sense of fulfillment that you are able to help someone else. Your loved one may express gratitude, leaving you feeling rewarded by the appreciation you are shown.
During stage one, you may also experience feelings of fear. Even if your caregiving responsibilities are not numerous at this stage, you may scare yourself thinking about the “what ifs.” This mentality can be paralyzing and keep you from enjoying the present.
When you get scared, it is often helpful to talk to someone who knows your situation and can offer perspective and calm your fears, whether that be a friend, a support group or a counselor.
Stage one is a great time to begin researching resources that will help you and your loved one in the future
STAGE TWO - Self-Identification as a Caregiver
Have you found that helping has become a necessity? Do you feel a responsibility to assist on a daily basis? Support may include assistance with some personal grooming or light housekeeping in addition to the other duties already being provided in stage one.
As your responsibilities grow as a caregiver, you may begin to experience frustration, ambivalence, anger and impatience. Sometimes, as a caregiver, you feel that you can’t do anything right or that things just don’t go as planned no matter what you do or how hard you try.
If you are tired, you are more likely to get frustrated. Frustration may lead to stress eating, substance abuse and a higher likelihood of losing your temper.
You need to schedule breaks from caregiving so you have time to be refreshed. What are some of your favorite activities? Exercising? Going to a movie? Make time to schedule those hobbies.
It’s important that you acknowledge that caregiving can be frustrating. Stage two is a good time to join a support group to learn tricks from other caregivers to make coping easier.
STAGE THREE - Providing Personal Care
Are you assisting with daily personal hygiene? At this level, the relationship between caregiver and loved one can become uncomfortable. Feelings associated with this stage of caregiving are numerous, including anxiety, boredom, crankiness/irritability, depression and disgust. As you feel your duties continue to rise, it can cause you to feel like things are out of control. According to www.caregiver.org, “Anxiety can emerge as a short fuse, the impulse to run away, not sleeping, heart palpitations or the urge to cry.”
It’s important that you learn to pay attention to your anxiety. When you feel anxious, stop, breathe, pray, meditate or make some tea. Do anything that will give you a break from what is happening in the moment.
Often, caregivers are not ready to seek paid help in stage three, but it’s never a bad idea to ask for help from loved ones, friends or your church members. Continue to schedule times for yourself to recharge, as you did in stage two.
STAGE FOUR - Seeking Assistance
Are you exhausted, feeling extremely stressed and wondering how you will continue to fulfill your caregiving responsibilities? It is time to actively seek support services like respite care, education programs and in-home services. Using these services gives a caregiver more quality time for self-care and down time with your loved one. Some caregivers will begin to experience emotions of guilt during stage four. According to www.caregiver.org, “There is guilt over feeling like you want this to end. There is guilt over not loving or even liking the care receiver at times. Sometimes caregivers feel guilty about thinking of their own needs and see themselves as selfish, especially if they should do something like go to a movie or out to lunch with a friend.”
In order to cope with feelings of guilt as you begin to seek outside help, give yourself permission to let go and forgive yourself. You are one person; you cannot do it all. Accepting outside help is often the best thing not only for you, but also for the person you are caring for. LIFE’s Vintage Guide provides an extensive list of respite care, education programs and in-home services.
STAGE FIVE - Exploring Alternative Housing Options
Are you finding it nearly impossible to manage your in-home responsibilities no matter how hard you try? Does your loved one require round-the clock assistance? Do they require daily medical care? This stage comes with the realization that there is a need for more services than can be typically provided within the home.
Stage five is about weighing options and learning about the different types of facilities that may meet the needs of the family. All of the emotions mentioned in the previous stages – anxiety, fear, guilt and depression – can be present in stage five.
If your loved one is placed in a long-term care community, your role as a caregiver does not end. You continue to bear the weight of decision-making and the responsibility of frequently visiting and checking on your loved one. Choose a housing option for your loved one that you know you can trust, and build a relationship with the nursing staff, so you can ensure you have an open line of communication to express any concerns.