You made the promise a long time ago to take care of your spouse or parent for as long as necessary. You made the promise out of love, out of family obligation, or just trying to do what’s right. Fast-forward to the present: you’ve been taking care of your loved one for three years now, and it’s taken a physical and mental toll not on your husband, mother or aunt, but you.
Think you’re alone? You’re not. You are one of more than 65 million adults in North America taking care of an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one. Here’s something else to think about: Family caretakers average 20 hours of unpaid in-home care per week, and 87-percent of them are not getting enough sleep. Sound familiar? Is this you, or someone you know?
The tasks of caring for an elderly loved one can add up quickly, leaving you exhausted and stressed out. Chances are, if you’ve been a caregiver for more than a few weeks you’ve experienced a certain degree of caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is 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 to do more than they are able, either physically or financially. Caregivers who are burned out may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but is also involves many stressors. And since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, the stress it generates can be particularly damaging. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities.
Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver’s body, mind and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness and, ultimately, burnout.
Caregiver burnout symptoms are similar to those suffering from stress and depression. They include:
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
• Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless
• Changes in appetite, weight, or both
• Changes in sleep patterns
If you find yourself answering yes to any of the above, what do you do?
Part of what pushed you to this burnout point is the mindset that caregiving is something that should consume your life. And that it means cutting out anything that’s not absolutely necessary because you’re already so busy.
First of all, recognize you deserve a break. No matter how much you love your family member, the daily routine can be exhausting and mind numbing. Sometimes you just need a break. As with any job, paid or unpaid, a rest from the daily grind rejuvenates the body, mind and spirit. Realize that your family member will, whether or not they realize it ahead of time, reap the benefits of a happier, more rested you.
Make a list of your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of it. Maybe your spouse can make dinner twice a week. Perhaps a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help: take them up on it! Also, if you’re still working, check into family leave benefits from your place of work. It could take a huge weight off your shoulders by giving you more hours in your day.
The more you feel you’ve done all you can to ensure a smooth transition, the more relaxed you’ll be while you are away. Call an in-home agency, preferably one
recommended by friends, and set up an interview with them. If you’re satisfied, make arrangements for a caregiver to go to your parent’s home for whatever time you feel is needed.
Remember, there are support groups in your community that you can attend. And if your schedule doesn’t permit that, there are online support groups available.
Since it’s easier to accept a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding, it’s important not to let caregiving take over your whole existence. Invest in things that give you meaning and purpose, whether it’s your family, church, a favorite hobby, or your career.
In no way does this article presume solid legal advice. It is to serve as a consumer guide in the complicated world of long-term care and financial strategies. It is best to consult an elder law attorney who can properly advise and draw up the necessary legal documents.