Caregiving doesn’t have to be as stressful as it is for many of us
Don’t get me wrong. Caregiving isn’t easy — but it can be made easier.
We go into caregiving with the best of intentions — often just gradually providing a little care here and there — thinking this is short term and that our life experiences will provide the guidance we need.
But, our caregiving journey may not begin because of a gradual decline in our parent’s cognitive or physical capabilities. Instead, it can start suddenly — in the blink of an eye — because of a car accident, a stroke, a heart attack or another medical emergency.
Regardless of how we begin, our caregiving efforts usually increase and last much longer than we anticipated. Often, we’ll end up second-guessing our every move. Are we doing the right things? Are we doing enough? Are we spending enough time with our family? Our days can become filled with worry, stress, anxiety, and uncertainty — punctuated by one crisis after another. And, at times, we’ll feel like we’re in over our heads.
Caregiving is hard work. More often than not, it is tedious, awkwardly intimate and exhausting — both physically and emotionally. Sometimes it is dangerous (when moving a patient). Almost always it is 24/7 and can have profound adverse health consequences for those who do it. It is work that many people either can’t or simply won’t do.
Our loved one — whether they are living with physical frailty, a terminal illness or dementia — is being propelled on a journey over which they have very little or no control. We still have control, even though it may often feel like we don’t.
How you cope depends completely on your own attitude. We cannot change the condition itself, but we can change how we approach this enormous challenge in our lives. And, we can enrich the life of our loved one in the process.
We can still make attitude adjustments, course corrections, seek help and ask for respite for a few hours or a few days. Our loved one has none of these choices available to them.
During each stage of your loved one’s journey through elderhood, it helps greatly to understand what she is going through, from her perspective — by truly putting yourself in her shoes. Indeed, the better you understand what she is going through and the reasons why she acts as she does, the less stress each of you will have. Then you both can focus more on making each day as good as it can be, during the time that remains.
The articles in this section are devoted to helping you understand what works — what doesn’t — and why.
Here’s my advice based on my own experiences as my mother’s primary caregiver for nearly four years, and the experiences of other caregivers who’ve also “been there – done that.”