Family care givers are generally thrusted into a job they often don’t want nor are prepared for. The level and complexities of care vary from family to family and even from culture to culture, however, the spectrum of feelings is pretty much the same. Care givers go through the A to Z of feelings: ANGER, FRUSTRATION, GRIEF, SADNESS, GUILT, HELPLESSNESS, AND BURN OUT are among the feelings that my patients talk to me about. Family care giving tends to push a lot of buttons. On the positive side, care givers can feel good about their contribution to the family, find it an opportunity to grow, and a way to pay back. The fact is that whether your emotional buttons are pushed or not, you can still feel feelings to some extent.
There are 2 words that sum up the care giving experience: SURVIVAL & DIGNITY. Survival relates to you and dignity refers to whom you are caring for. Your emotional and psychological well-being need to be taken seriously. I will address that later. Dignity refers to understanding and being respectful to the parent who has lost some level of autonomy, independence, and control over themselves and/or their lives.
Care givers need to have tools and a support system, so they can avoid burn-out, exhaustion, and live a balanced life. A lot of unfinished issues are brought to the surface when dealing with a sick and dependent parent. One of the most difficult problems I have come across in my office is when the care giver has to care for a parent who has been in some ways abusive to them, either physically, emotionally, and/or sexually. There is a lot to work through here for the care giver. The next difficult situation is when the elderly parent is abusive physically and/or emotionally to the care giver while they are being cared for. Here are 7 ways to make life easier for the care givers:
Learn about the medical condition that your parent suffers from: the symptoms, the meds, what does this illness look like in a year, 5, or 10 years. Introduce yourself to the medical team. Equip yourself with the knowledge of what you are working with.
Talk to your siblings and family members. The work needs to be shared. If you are the one taking the lead in caring for your family member, you need to be able to delegate. If you can delegate some responsibilities to others and are not, you will burn out much faster.
Get used to a new normal in your life. As the health of your parent deteriorate, your new normal changes. So you are always having to get used to an ever-changing new normal.
Be respectful with your words and actions. Don’t talk about them in front of them. Don’t blame them for what they can’t do. Help them restore their dignity as much as possible. Be aware of the gradual role reversal that takes place and that you may resent it, especially if you feel, at time, that you need to be taken care of.
Know that you are dealing with an on-going grief which needs to be addressed anyway you can. You also have to get ready to deal with the eventual loss of your loved one. This eventual loss can lead to feelings of guilt, sadness, relief/ perhaps all at the same time.
Recognize your personal signs of stress. Don’t dismiss your stress. It will often transform into physical and/or psychological problems. Family care givers experience psychological symptoms 50% more than non-care givers. They also suffer from physical illnesses at a much higher rate than non-care givers. Simple things like listening to music, going for a walk, taking deep breaths, meditating, having a hobby, or just talking to your friends can help reduce the stress.
The last point is to remember you have a choice in how you view your circumstances. You can feel resentful, victimized, and frustrated most of the times or you can see it as a way to grow, help, and pay back. The fact of the matter is that whether you see the care giving experience as positive or negative, you will feel the A to Z of feelings associated with caring for an elderly, sick, and/or dependent parent. The bottom line is to know that your perspective will determine your experience of care giving.