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While short-term caregiving usually doesn’t lead to increased demands on you and your time, long-term caregiving or caregiving for someone who has a terminal illness does. As your family member or friend experiences further decline in their abilities, you will likely experience increased caregiving demands and related stress. Planning for this is essential in managing stress, preventing burnout and achieving wellness.
Finding Work-Life Balance as a Caregiver
More and more adult children are helping their aging parent, while working and taking care of their own children at the same time. Balancing career and family life can be a very frustrating and overwhelming experience. It leaves very little time for you to take care of yourself too. In fact, many caregivers experience anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, isolation and exhaustion.
Strategies, Resources and Respite Care Options
There are a number of ways that you can manage stress, from problem-solving and learning to deal effectively with your caregiving tasks, to making connections with support resources such as respite care and taking time for yourself. This is most important - take care of yourself. You are of no use to yourself or your family member/friend if you don’t. It is your right to pursue good health and wellness.
Becoming a long-term caregiver will take you through stages of caregiving that are often referred to as a “career of caregiving”.
How well you manage stress and your level of flexibility and adaptation to your loved one’s needs will impact on how you are able to cope with the transitions during your caregiving career.
Helping Loved Ones Achieve Independent Living
If your aging or ailing family member or friend lives far away, making sure that they are well taken care of presents a unique set of problems. But, with planning you can be very effective in helping them build the local support network that they need to stay at home and maintain their independent living.
Adult Day Centre: Provides attended care, recreation and socialization in an active group setting.
Advance Care Planning: The process of planning, in advance, for personal and financial care should one be unable to make decisions on their own behalf.
How long should Dad drive? What do you do when you know it’s not safe for him to be behind the wheel and he’s adamant about driving? What do you do when Mom leaves the gas stove on, and gets lost in the neighbourhood? Do you put a network of community services together or should she move into a long-term care facility?
Communication in Elder Home Care
One of the challenges of elder home care is communicating with the person for whom you are caring. One way to improve communication is to involve the person you’re caring for when possible. Instead of stepping in to do what you think they need, ask your family member or friend how they are feeling or what they would like you to do for them. This lets them see that you appreciate their perspective and their input. This can also improve your ability to provide appropriate and compassionate elder home care. If there is a history of “bad blood” that you are unable to resolve yourself or with professional guidance, you may need to consider alternate caregiving arrangements.
Gaining Knowledge to Manage Home Health Care
Communicating with the health care team of your senior family member or friend allows you to make informed decisions on the best options, such as home health care services. The key to communicating with health care professionals is to be organized and persistent. Plan what you want to say before you meet with the doctor or any other health practitioner.
Caregiver burnout has been defined as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try and do more than they are able physically and financially. Caregivers who are burned out may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression”.
Source: Clevelend Clinic Health System. (2001). Caregiving: Stress Management and Burnout Prevention.
It is no secret that caregivers experience increased stress. Accepting the caregiver role and having to redefine your life as a result is a tall order. To remain helpful to your loved one, it is extremely important to be flexible and know the signs and origin of your stress. Every day will probably be different and you need to be able to adapt to changes in your family member or friend’s mental and physical condition. You also need to be aware of the respite care options that are available to help you manage your stress.
I have the right:
To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capability of taking better care of my relative.
To seek help from others even though my relatives may object. I recognize the limits of my own endurance and strength.
Caregivers become caregivers for a variety of reasons, usually following the hospitalization or serious illness of a loved one. Sometimes it is short-term, which is often easier to accept because we see the dependency as temporary, with a family member or friend recovering in the near future. Other times it is long-term, likely until the end of life.
The reality is that we live in an ageist society – one that worships youth. When was the last time you saw older women and men on the front cover of trendy magazines? Even magazines that are targeted to an older market portray youthful-looking models and often have ads for anti-aging therapies and cosmetic surgeries that remove the signs of aging. Popular television shows are equally ageist, depicting older people as senile, cranky and suffering from a long list of physical problems. All of this, along with changing family and societal roles and decreased independence creates a unique set of challenges for the 55 plus.
Adhering to general principles and practices that can help you manage caregiver stress and prevent burnout is important. But, having effective coping skills also means having an action plan. A good action plan deals with four major organizational and problem-solving areas. The following table summarizes these areas and lists some concrete steps that you can take to achieve your stress management, burnout prevention and problem-solving goals to make you a healthy and effective caregiver.