Are You Feeling Caregiver Guilt?

Happy elderly woman with her daughter in behind an embrace.

Family caregivers are the bedrock of our nation’s elder care system. The AARP estimates that this care, if provided by paid professionals, would cost more than $470 billion dollars each year! Caregivers support the well-being of senior loved ones with hands-on help, healthcare management, transportation, dementia care and more—all while trying to keep up with their jobs, family responsibilities and other part of their lives.

Despite all that they do, many caregivers report feeling guilty for not doing more, or not living up to their own expectations. And guilt is an emotion that can affect our health and our emotional well-being. It can interfere with our ability to be a good caregiver, a good parent, a good spouse and a good employee—even as we might be trying to balance all of those roles. It’s important to break that cycle.

The first step in retaining some balance in your life and shedding your sense of guilt is to recognize that what you’re feeling is completely normal. Realizing your situation is one shared by millions of others who are experiencing the same emotions can go a long way in helping you cope. Here are some other tips to help you take back your life.

Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. You may harbor some anger and frustration towards the person for whom you’re caring. You may experience profound sadness if you feel that the person you once knew is slipping away from you. You may occasionally resent the time you spend with your loved one because it’s taking time away from your career or other family responsibilities. Understand that these feelings are completely normal and grant yourself permission to feel them.

Set boundaries. As far as it is possible, let your loved one know when there are specific times that you will be unavailable for routine assistance. If you have a specific event you need to attend, let your loved one know and provide an alternate source of help, if possible. If you’re going to meet your loved one in person, call ahead and ask if they need anything, so you don’t have to turn around the minute you arrive to pick up a prescription or food. Explain to your family and boss what is going on with you: it’s better that they know why you might be late sometimes, or unable to attend an event you would normally not miss.

Make connections. Find a friend you can confide in or see a counselor to help you sort out your emotions. Support groups are also a wonderful way to connect with others in the same situation. You’ll likely discover that the simple act of telling your story to a receptive audience and listening to others can be very healing. Many long-term friendships have formed among caregiver family members.

Ask family members for help. Enlist support from other relatives. If they live far away, explain what’s going on and ask them if they would be willing to take a weekend or a week to help. Hold a family meeting, if possible. Explain the toll that assuming sole responsibility for caregiving is having on you. This includes the financial impact of serving as primary caregiver. If other family members aren’t able to provide support in person, ask for financial help for your loved one’s expenses and for respite care.

Discover community resources. Check out the resources that are available in your community, such as local Area Agencies on Aging, senior service providers, aging life care professionals (geriatric care managers) and senior centers. These organizations can provide information on specific diseases, general topics on caregiving and aging, as well as service providers that can help in a number of ways.

Enlist the support of professional caregivers. Professional caregivers can provide a variety of support services, including helping your loved get dressed and bathed, grocery shopping, medication management and even light housekeeping. If your loved one has more clinical needs, home health professionals can provide nursing and therapeutic services as well. If your loved one’s care needs are complex, consider an assisted living or other senior support community.

Take care of yourself. When one gets caught up in a caregiving role, it’s easy to let other things slide – things like going to the gym and grocery store or getting together with friends. But being a good caregiver means taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and to continue to feed your spirit, whether that’s reading a good book, going to a movie, or walking the family dog.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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