“Caring for the Caregiver”

Local support group member and volunteer Denise is reading the book “How to Care for Aging Parents.”  She is offering occasional reports on the highlights of the book.  She has read the third chapter, which is about caring for the caregiver.  Here are Denise’s take-aways.  Despite the title of the book, the information applies to all caregivers, not just adult children caregivers.



Denise’s Notes to

Chapter three – “Caring for the Caregiver”
of the book “How to Care for Aging Parents”
by Virginia Morris and Robert Butler

The last couple months I’ve been reading “How to Care for Aging Parents,”” by Virginia Morris and Robert Butler, 2004, and passing on tips appropriate for all caregivers.  Chapter one looked at the importance of discussing end of life preferences, finding important documents, getting organized, and making a plan.   Chapter two talked about changing relationships and when to intervene.  Now, I give you chapter three, ‘Caring for the Caregiver.’  This chapter provides some guidelines to prevent your developing compassion fatigue.

Start by setting limits

– First, think about what your motivation is for all the caregiving you do.  Harboring resentment for being asked to do more than you are willing and/or able, is harmful, unhealthy stress.

– Then, make a list of true necessities and another list of extras.  If you have the resources (including other family members and/or volunteers), delegate so you can be there for the things only someone with a close, personal relationship can do.  If everything falls at your feet, get real about your feelings and limited energy and time.

– Next, write up a schedule to get those necessities done.  Be sure to include time for yourself to recharge.  There will be enough interruptions to that schedule you will be glad to be rested when demands increase.  Get used to saying, “No,” even to yourself, so you can stick to that schedule.

– Finally, let go of futile battles.  Fruitlessly trying to get a loved one to change their ways is unnecessarily increasing stress for both of you.  Make your best argument, then drop it, at least until circumstances change enough to warrant revisiting the issue.

Deal with your emotions

It is inevitable that strong emotions will surface when caring for a loved one who is ill or frail over a long term.  Following the guidelines above will help alleviate feelings of caregiver guilt and resentment.

If anger and resentment do arise, try writing about what makes you mad.  Once you identify the source of the aggravation, change what you can about the situation to avoid future conflicts.  If your efforts prove unsuccessful, consider talking to a therapist, social worker or support group.

Hopelessness, sorrow and grief are common, normal feelings when you are watching someone you love struggle with declining health.  In many cases their reduced abilities and changed personality cause you to grieve the person you once knew.  You may even be kicking yourself for thinking, at some particularly miserable point, they would be better off dying sooner than later.  This type of sadness is called ‘anticipatory grief’ and everyone deals with it differently.  Cut yourself some slack, talk it out with someone who understands (another good use of a support group),  and don’t forget to tell the person you’re losing how you feel about them.

Twelve Steps to a Healthy Mindset

Most of them you’ve heard a million times already like, take time for yourself / indulge yourself / relax / laugh / pursue hobbies, stay connected with friends for social support / keep up with the news for perspective, and seek spiritual support.  They’re important but I found these two unique and worthwhile:

#4 Set aside 15-30 minutes just to worry.  Jot whatever is distracting you from work or sleep to think about at a designated time.  You may find when get to it, that it wasn’t that critical after all.

#7 Take action rather than just grumble when you’re not happy with poor service, rude orderlies, chronically late home-care workers, etc.  Calmly, but persistently, move up the chain of command until you get satisfaction for your complaint.  It will give you a sense of control and alleviate unhealthy frustration and anger, aka: stress.