Anyone who has had a senior loved one who is in need of care and assistance knows that it can be rewarding to become a caregiver. It’s also one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
There are many reasons why being a senior caregiver can be stressful. The most obvious of these is that you care about the person. If they’ve reached a point where they need assistance either physically or mentally – or both – it’s only natural to experience a wide range of emotions as you worry about their health and wellbeing. And that’s stressful. Are they in pain? How long will they be this way? What can you do to make them feel better?
Sometimes the caregiving is temporary while they rehab from a broken hip or surgery. While it can still put a lot of pressure on you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But many times, the need for a caregiver results from a chronic illness, dementia or the physical limitations that come with aging.
And when that’s the case, there’s the added distress from realizing that your loved one is never going to be the same person they once were. If they are physically impaired, maybe they now have a walker or wheelchair. They’re not going to join you in a friendly game of golf again. No more long walks through the woods.
Instead, they may start to need a little help with the activities of daily life (or ADLs, as they’re called in the healthcare field). Maybe some help dressing or showering. Medication reminders. Eventually some help eating.
If your loved one suffers from dementia, you may see them pulling away from you. Sometimes they seem just like their old self; other times there’s no trace of the husband or father you once knew. They may not recognize you. They may talk about things from the past – or things that aren’t really happening. My dad once made a comment about the cows frolicking in the snow outside his window. There were neither cows nor snow outside his assisted living community on that July day. It’s tempting to tell them it’s not real. But that only leads to an argument, leaving you both upset. It’s things like this that can be both sad and frustrating at the same time – which of course then makes you feel guilty, leading to even more stress.
Caregivers also tend to take everything upon themselves. They often feel the need to grocery shop, cook, clean, and do all the other household chores they’ve always done — in addition to caring for their loved one. So now you need to add helping him or her bathe, dress, eat and get around to all the other daily tasks on your plate. It’s not easy.
And then there’s money. Finances are often a worry when a senior needs to have a caregiver. The remaining spouse or child is left to pay all the bills – and there suddenly seem to be more of them – as well as handle all the other finances and taxes. If your loved one handled all of that in the past, this can be an intimidating task. Not only is it one more thing on your plate, but one important thing – that needs to be done right.
And being a caregiver keeps you busy busy busy. It’s not just the emotional side – caregiving takes a toll on your physical health as well. In the daytime, you’re always on the go. At night you may find yourself sleeping with one eye open and one ear tuned to the sound of your loved one waking in the night.
In order to keep your sanity – and stay physically and emotionally able to care for the senior – you, as a caregiver need to take care of yourself first. Here are a few ideas to help you get through it.
Get some help. Pay a home health aide or arrange for a volunteer to come in and stay with your loved one while you take a little time for yourself. Go to lunch with a friend or relative. See a movie. Take a long walk. If your first reaction is to feel guilty – don’t. If a break helps to keep you balanced, it’s the best choice for both of you.
Find a support group. It always helps to talk with others who know exactly what you’re going through.
Take care of your self. Eat healthy. Try to exercise. Get as much sleep as you can. And if that means skipping the laundry this once and taking a short nap while they do, well that’s okay. Let yourself let it go.
Don’t try to put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Do your best and don’t blame yourself for not doing more. The time you spend with your loved one in these last years can mean the world to you (and them). But you can only do it well if you take care of yourself first.
Many seniors choose to stay at home as long as they can, but studies have shown that living in a senior community can have many benefits – to healthy seniors, as well as couples that need or provide caregiving to their loved one. Discovery Village Senior Living Community in southwest Florida is a great example. They provide independent senior living apartments for those able to live on their own. The great thing is that you’ll be getting some help right away – in the form of perks that are automatically included with senior living! You’ll get three gourmet meals a day as well as laundry and housekeeping services. Eliminating grocery shopping, cooking and cleanup alone will give you more time to spend with, and care for, your loved one. If and when you find you can no longer handle the cares on your own, you can have home health services come right to them – in your own apartment.
And if the needs of your loved one become more than home health can provide, they’ll have the option to move to assisted living or memory care right there in the same community.
Discovery Village at Stuart offers a variety of senior living programs to keep seniors healthy and active. Learn about our senior living options and amenities today when you contact us at 772.247.5400.