If you are a family caregiver, then you've probably had a moment or two where you felt so frustrated that it caused you to say or do something to your loved one that you later regretted. Such regret can usually cause us to feel like the "worse partner, sibling or child in the world." It may also result in you questioning, "How could I have said that?" If any of this sounds familiar, then you should know it can be typical among many individuals who are caring for a loved one, especially if they live together. Aside from knowing you are not alone, you should also know there are steps you can take to reduce your level of frustration and prevent future outbursts.
Understand Where Your Loved One is Coming From
The reality that we need to rely on others for things we were once been able to do for ourselves, is something that many people struggle with. There is a grief associated with that particular loss and everyone handles it differently. Whether our strength and/or our senses are diminishing, at some point needing assistance seems inevitable. For many individuals, this need for assistance is synonymous with losing other freedoms like living alone, running errands, etc. Understanding how your loved one is processing this change and how it can affect his/her well-being may give you a better sense of the reasons for their "frustrating" behavior.
Remind Yourself of What Their Day Looks Like
For the most part, individuals who need assistance may not be as active as they used to be, which could mean their level of socialization or even the way they are socializing has changed. As a result, it is not uncommon to be bombarded with all of their thoughts, complaints or critiques upon interacting with them and for you to become frustrated as a result. One way you can try to minimize being bombarded is to find ways your loved one can be more engaged with others. Nowadays, due to the pandemic, many more individuals have been "forced" to venture into the online world. Virtual gatherings are increasingly being offered. Look into organizations related to your loved one´s hobbies and be sure to check out your local libraries.
Recognize Your Limitations
Understanding what your buttons are and what sets you off is key to understanding when you need a break. Yes, I know - a break is almost impossible to take when you are a caregiver. A break, however, can include anything from going to the restroom for a few minutes, calling someone to vent, to going out for a walk around the block a few times. Whenever we become "heated", being able to take a "time out" is essential to maintaining our composure. Other activities that can probably assist with reducing your frustration can be singing, dancing, coloring, doodling, writing and even squeezing a stress ball. Cold water can also help to regulate the body as well. Overall, the goal should be to mentally or emotionally get to a place where you will not do or say something you will later regret.
Seek Professional Help
While the above tips can work for some, they don't work for all. Factors like personality issues, past family conflict or resentment towards your loved one can serve as barriers to keeping your cool. Seeking the assistance of a mental health professional can help you dig deeper into an understanding of what sets you off and with developing a plan of action to prevent future outbursts.
If any of the above tips have worked for you, I would love to hear your input. Do you have other tips or recommendations you would like to share about "keeping your cool", please share them below.
When it comes to caring for a loved one, conflicts don't just occur between siblings and/or stepfamily. They can also arise between extended relatives like in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. Such conflict may arise from extended family's belief that the primary caregiver is not caring sufficiently for the loved one. Some reasons for this may include the extended relative not being unaware of the intricate details of the caregiver’s role, not believing what the caregiver relays about his/her responsibilities, being in denial about the loved one's condition or the extended relative may simply just find the reality of the situation too difficult to deal with. If any of this sounds familiar, then consider trying the following techniques in order to reduce your level of stress when interacting with your extended family member.
If interacting directly with your family member is unavoidable, consider limiting your interactions by setting boundaries. As the primary caregiver, you more than likely have your hands full and don’t have time to “entertain” relatives who visit or answer their inquiries via phone. Setting a boundary can be done by saying something like, “Caring for mom requires a lot of my time, focus and energy. While I appreciate your visits and calls, it does throw off our schedule a bit. For the time being, if you wouldn't mind coming by only on Mondays or Wednesdays or limiting your calls to the mid-afternoon hours, I think that would make things easier for us to handle.” Whether you say this to one particular relative or to everyone in the family, it could ultimately help to reduce the stress of interacting with that one particular relative.
Appoint a “Gatekeeper”
For some, dealing with a particular family member can be anxiety-producing, exhausting and/or can get your “blood boiling.” Selecting a person who can talk directly with this relative to relay updates, maintain contact and essentially filter any negative feedback can help to reduce the anxiety, exhaustion and frustration you would experience otherwise. The key to choosing a “gatekeeper” is to pick someone who will keep the “drama” out of it and stick to the facts. This person could be a relative, a friend, a neighbor or even a hired professional. Regardless of who you choose, it should be someone who is reliable, dependable and level-headed.
Sometimes taking the above approaches don’t work and the only thing left is to be upfront about what you are feeling and experiencing in your role as a caregiver. If a relative is calling too much, making too many recommendations or being too intrusive – let them know. Worst case scenario, you offend your relative and he/she ceases communication with you. Best case scenario, you reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing since your relative now understands your responsibilities and respects your stated wishes. While you may not want to be upfront for fear of creating family friction, you ultimately have to think about yourself and put your own emotional, physical and spiritual well-being first. “Saving face” is generally not worth risking your own sanity and health. Plus, as I often mention to caregivers, if you don't take care of yourself, then who will take care of you and your loved one?
If you would like to share your thoughts about this post or offer some advice, please do so below. Also, feel free to share this post with friends and family members whom you believe could benefit from reading it.
For many family members getting an older adult to accept assistance can be met with many barriers. Whether trying to assist with managing finances, implementing home safety measures or arranging for home care, chances are your relative will resist; This especially holds true if your loved one has great pride in being independent.
Below are a few recommendations you may want to consider to increase the chances your loved one will accept the services you know they need:
Pull at the Heart Strings
One technique I often suggest to family members, especially adult children, is to "pull at the heart strings" of your relative. Many older adults will refuse assistance for a variety of reasons but in some cases upon hearing how stressed and worried you are about them, they generally concede so as to not be burden to you. Often a conversation about how stressed you are with trying to manage everything, along with suggestions of services that can ease your troubles, may allow your relative to see things from a different perspective and hopefully agree to the assistance you are suggesting.
Make it About You
One of the worse things you can do is to tell an older adult how THEY are no longer capable of taking care of themselves. Besides being confronted by denial, you may also be accused of being "dramatic", "interfering", or "crazy." Focus instead on how you are arranging for "x" service in order to alleviate some of YOUR own responsibilities. Explaining how some of the physical chores you are doing is straining on your "bad back" or that the amount of time you are taking off from work for doctor's visits is causing trouble with your boss may lead to your relative to agree with your proposal.
Offer a Trial Period
Much like with anything, most of us like the idea of being able to try something first before we fully commit to it. Explain to your loved one how the service you are proposing is something that can easily be cancelled should they not like it. By doing so, they will know they have the final say, which can make the idea of accepting help easier to swallow. It has been my experience that once a good service is in place older adults will see the benefit and stick with it.
Lastly, remember that many older adults despise the thought of receiving assistance because it basically is a blow to the ego and also signifies the inability to tend to their own needs. Understanding where they are coming from, what makes them feel useful and their past history at gaining independence can provide you with additional insight about how best to implement the above recommendations.
Have you had any success with the suggestions made above? Do you have some suggestions of your own? Feel free to share them below.
Being a family caregiver can cause complications in many different areas of a caregiver's life. One area that is often not discussed - a caregiver's love life. For many, caring for a relative can place a significant strain on his/her relationship. Whether single, married, divorced, or widowed, trying to juggle the responsibilities of caregiving with an intimate relationship can be challenging. Below are suggestions on how married and single caregivers can enhance a current relationship.
Caregivers Who Are Married
Discuss Expectations - Be upfront about what each one of you expects from the other. Doing so prevent misunderstanding based on assumptions. It can also go a long way in reducing potential arguments.
Explain Your Concerns - Talk about your worries and hesitations regarding your caregiving role and your relationship. By "laying it out on the table" both of you can gain a better sense of what each one is concerned about and hopefully have a better idea of how to support each other throughout this difficult journey.
Reminisce and Envision - Think back to when you first met and remind yourselves why are your married. Doing so may help reignited your passion and remind you about the bigger picture. Envisioning the bigger picture can serve as a motivating factor to get through the hard times together.
Caregivers Who Are Dating
Be Honest About Your Role - Describing what your day-to-day routine looks like to a potential partner can help set the stage for a relationship that is flexible and understanding. Clearing up expectations can also help minimize arguments that can arise should you need to cancel plans or cannot commit to something in advance because of your caregiving role.
Schedule "Date" Time - If at all possible, consider setting a day, evening or weekend when you can spend alone time with your companion. Having other relatives, friends or neighbors "check-in" on your loved one, spend an afternoon with him/her, etc., can give you some time to get away and focus on your relationship. This can also be beneficial for married cargivers.
Know Your Limitations
If being in a "full-time" relationship is not possible, it doesn't mean you can't mingle and socialize with other individuals. A social life is just as important as your caregiving role. It's just one of the many things needed in order to take care of yourself.
There is no question that we can all benefit from being in a loving, caring, supporting relationship with a companion that can fulfill our emotional, spiritual and physical needs. While being a family caregiver, especially a primary one, can detract from the time and energy one has to give to a partner, it is vital to understand the benefit that connecting with a companion can have your well-being.
Has your relationship been impacted by your caregiving responsibility? What, if anything, have you done to try to keep it afloat?
Family caregivers, without a doubt, have so much to do and while there is no shortage for people offering to help, there is often little that is concretely offered. Below are some specific suggestions family and friends can offer so as to make a family caregiver's life a little easier.
Offer to take the caregiver out - lunch, tea, coffee, etc., - basically anything that allows the caregiver to take a break from their caregiving responsibilities. Going out and doing something different from their normal routine can be a reprieve and can also help reduce feelings of isolation. If possible, friends and family can express their desire to go out, while also being accommodating and flexible to a caregiver's schedule.
Offer to care for their loved one while they attend a support group. Being able to participate in a support group, whether in-person or virtually, can normalize a caregiver's situation as well as their feelings of doubt, resentment, etc. It can also increase the likelihood of forming connections by allowing them to see that other caregivers are experiencing similar issues.
Offer to run errands - grocery shopping, medication pickup, taking their loved one to medical appointments, etc., are just a few of the errands family caregivers often manage. Helping with such tasks can not only help the caregiver feel validated but also reduce their stress.
Offer to spend the week or weekend with their loved one. If the caregiver is living with the person they are caring, this can be a particular reprieve. Having a weekend, for example, can offer the caregiver a sufficient block of time to tend to their own errands or interests without having to worry about rushing back home to their loved one. Of course, offering this as an option, greatly depends on the severity of the loved one's care needs. So, offer this only if you know how to handle the intricacies of caring for their loved one.
Acknowledging a caregiver’s responsibilities through words is helpful but actions generally hold more weight. Often times, caregivers don’t have the time to think about what other’s can do. Being direct and offering something concrete can be a great first step in alleviating some of the tasks caregivers are responsible for.
Do you have any other recommendations for family members and friends of family caregivers? What else can someone do to help alleviate caregiver stress?
With Summer in full force, it is important to not only check in on older adults in the community, but to also be aware of medical emergencies that can arise due to extreme heat. One such medical emergency is a Heat stroke. Below are answers to questions people often have about this medical condition.
What is Heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a serious medical condition whereby your body overheats - typically from overexposure to high temperatures. Untreated heat stroke can result in damage to your brain as well as other organs. Symptoms often include a high body temperature of 103°F or higher, hot, red, dry or damp skin, dizziness, nausea, etc. It important that medical attention be immediately obtained if you notice any of these signs in yourself or a loved one.
Why are older adults more susceptible to heat stroke?
Factors like a deteriorating central nervous system, which inhibits the body's ability to regulate its temperature, as well as certain medications and chronic illnesses can increase the likelihood of having a heat stroke.
What can be done to keep older adults cool?
Utilize the Air-conditioner, wear loose-fitting and light clothing, stay hydrated as per doctor's recommendations, reduce strenuous activity and refrain from eating hot food and drinking alcoholic beverages.
In the event there is no A/C in the home or it is insufficient, consider visiting a local "cooling center." Cooling centers are air-conditioned facilities that are open to the public, during heat waves, specifically for the purpose of offering reprieve from the heat. Local community centers, libraries and senior centers are examples of cooling centers. To find a local cooling center in New Jersey, click here; for New York City, click here.
Aside from the aforementioned suggestions on keeping cool, do you have any other home remedy-like suggestions that have helped keep you or a loved one cool? I would love to hear what has worked for you. Please share below.
As a family caregiver, you may come to a point when you have to hire in-home assistance. For some family caregivers, crossing this threshold can be filled with anxiety as it may mean having to convince a resistant loved one to accept help and/or figuring out which person/agency will be the best fit. For some family caregivers this process is more dreadful than convincing their loved one to accept assistance, because of "horror" stories they may have heard from others. "Horror” stories like caregivers who steal, don't show up and/or abuse their loved one. While such fear is understandable, the truth is family members can reduce the likelihood of hiring a “bad” caregiver by being proactive and starting the process of choosing someone before they are in desperate need.
Decide which route to pursue ~ Some family caregivers choose to hire a professional from a Licensed and Bonded home care agency. Such agencies are approved to provide a certain level of care and conduct background checks on their aides. Other family caregivers, however, decide to hire someone privately (not affiliated with an agency) who is highly recommended by friends/ trusted colleagues.. The key to making such a decision, if you have a choice, is to understand the pros and cons of each and to feel as secure as possible in your decision. For example, when hiring a caregiver through an agency, the agency is responsible for replacing your regular caregiver if he/she is unable to work. If you privately hire a caregiver, however, it means you can be left stranded if he/she calls out sick or has an emergency. The decision ultimately depends on the services available to you and your level of comfort with each option.
Make sure the person is trained and experienced~Upon deciding which route you are most comfortable with, make sure the caregiver you are seeking is trained and experienced; This is crucial to making sure your loved one is properly cared for. For example, if your loved one is cognitively impaired, it is important to have a caregiver who understands the nature of the impairment so as to interact with your loved one appropriately and effectively. This is especially important if your loved one is easily agitated or frustrated. Whether hiring from an agency or independently, it is essential to inquire about trainings, workshops and experiences the caregiver has had and to ask for documentation to verify such experience.
Ask for personal and professional references ~ This should especially be conducted if you are hiring someone independent of an agency. The more you know about a caregiver's work history and their personality, the better your chances of getting a responsible person and a suitable match. Make sure to follow up with all of their references so that you can hear about their qualifications first hand.
Interview your final candidate(s) ~ Interviewing a potential candidate, face-to-face, is important and, if possible, should be conducted with your loved one. A main part of having a successful relationship between your loved one and a caregiver is to see how their personalities match up. Believe it or not, there are cases where a trained professional caregiver has been hired by a family but for various reasons the person they are caring for does not like them and refuses to accept his/her assistance. This can leave you starting from scratch.
Check in frequently ~ Equally important as the aforementioned, is the task of checking-in frequently with both the caregiver and your loved one. Whether it is being done in-person or via phone, expressing your concern about your loved one's health, safety and daily routine can go a long way in showing the caregiver you are involved. During my work as an elder abuse specialist, most of the older adults who were abused by aides, either did not have any family expressing interest in their well-being or did not have any family at all.
While the above suggestions cannot guarantee a perfect match or ensure your loved one's safety, they can help in choosing a more appropriate caregiver for your given situation.
What approaches or tips would you share with someone who is looking for a caregiver? Please share your suggestions and recommendations below.
After posting a blog on the subject of managing Love and Caregiving, I was contacted by Samantha Stein, Online Content Manger for the Association for Long Term Care Planning, who expressed interest in sharing her recent article on my blog. Upon reading it, I thought it would be beneficial to share some of her tips on balancing marriage and caring for a parent. Below are the key points of her article. If you would like to read the full article, feel free to read it here.
Senior Care: Balancing Marriage and Caring for a Parent
By Samantha Stein
Caregiving can strengthen the bonds of relationships within the family. It can bridge gaps and heal decades-long conflicts through the connections that form during the care. However, it can also cause strains within the family. Caregivers may be put in a tough spot when the stress of their tasks takes its toll on their relationships and marriage. It may even reach a point where it feels like you have to make a choice between your partner and your aging parent. Understandably, no one wants to be put in a position such as that. But how can you avoid it? You can start by identifying the roots.
Frustration and Fatigue - Providing care to an aging loved one can be time-consuming and energy-draining. There will be days when you will feel as if everything is piling up and you will feel overwhelmed. It will feel like nothing is going right or as planned and you feel frustrated and exhausted by it all. When this happens, it can be too easy to turn to you partner and just release all those negative emotions on him or her. Frustration and fatigue, if not vented out the right way, can be the foundation of a very unhappy environment. It can cause friction in marriages and can damage relationships.
Lack of Intimacy - Intimacy is one of the key elements that strengthen relationships and marriages, and the lack of it can cause a severe blow. Individuals have shared that caregiving has had a negative impact on their sexual relationship. Caring for a parent, managing your household, and co-parenting your children can be difficult to manage. Add senior care to that, and it surely leaves little room for any sort of intimacy.
Financial Burden - Various articles, such as these posts by Investopedia and Shaw Family Law PC, cite financial strains and extended families among the top causes of divorce in the United States. When a parent ends up needing care, adult children often feel obligated to step up and provide the help that they need. It almost feels like second nature to many.
However, providing senior care, especially when the care recipient does not have long term care coverage, can put a significant dent on any couple’s finances. Care services in the country have become too expensive for many to afford. And if you and your partner are still in the process of saving for your retirement, then adding senior care costs can surely make the situation more challenging.
Addressing the Issues
Like any roadblock, these issues ought to be addressed together. These situations are exactly the right moments when communication between partners will be truly tested. It is important to be honest about concerns, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. It is also necessary to have an open mind when dealing with these instances as they can easily put a damper on your relationship.
Validate and Address Emotional and Mental Stress - Emotional and mental stress can come to both the caregiver and the spouse. And often, whoever experiences it feels as if these reactions are selfish. Bear in mind that having these feelings and going through these struggles do not make you less of a partner or a person. Whatever your role is in the equation, these emotions are real issues that need to be addressed. Talk about it with your partner, and if necessary, seek professional help.
Prioritize Your Spouse - The caregiver and the spouse ought to find ways to show that they prioritize their partners, even if it means leaving them alone for a time. Often, some people need their space to recollect their thoughts and their bearings. Being there for your partner, especially when they are dealing with all that comes with caring for a loved one, could mean providing them with the space that they need to adjust to stresses on their own.
However, time together is also vital. Remember that having time for each other does not necessarily have to be extravagant or expensive. Find enjoyment in the little things. Love does not always have to be shown in big gestures. Sometimes, it is the seemingly insignificant acts of love –the ones that we often take advantage of—are the ones that mean the most. What matters is that you show your appreciation for each other, and that you do activities that help strengthen your bond.
Find Support Online - So many individuals are in the same boat. They face similar challenges and struggle with identical issues. Sometimes, these people might even understand you on a level that your significant other might struggle with. So many caregivers have found support and guidance through online communities, and it would be all right for you to do the same. The communities provide a no-judgment platform where caregivers can share their frustrations and stresses and get the support that they need.
Do you have other recommendations you would like to share regarding balancing marriage and caregiving? Perhaps, you have a question for myself or Ms. Stein. If so, please share them below.
Samantha Stein is an online content manager for ALTCP.org. Her works focus on key information on long term care insurance, finance, elder care, and retirement. In line with the organization’s goal, Samantha creates content that helps raise awareness on the importance of having a comprehensive long term care plan not just for the good of the individual but for the safety of the entire family.
How often as a family caregiver have you heard statements like, “Be sure to take care of yourself.” or “Don’t let yourself get too stressed." You may have heard such statements from friends, distant relatives, your physician, clergy, etc. But, how often do you hear them ask, “How are you doing?” or “What do you need?” Chances are you hear "How is your [mom, dad, sister, brother, etc.] doing?" more often than the former. Why? Because, unfortunately, many people don’t understand the hardships that a caregiver endures when caring for a relative and how you too need to be checked up on. So, how can you as the family caregiver take better care of yourself, especially when you can't control what questions other people ask you?
1). Be Bold and a little Self-serving - what I mean by this is you should not be bashful in letting others know how stressed you may be and what you need help with. This is not to be confused with venting without giving the person a chance to offer some help. Being able to vent is definitely helpful but it should be followed up with an expression of need. For example, "Ugghh, I've been having such a hard time managing mom's meds. I just wish I knew of some way I can make it easier on me and her." Such a statement opens the possibility of the other person giving a helpful response or feeling like they could potentially help you by looking into ways to make medication management easier on you.
2). Know What You Need - while this should technically be the first step, I list it second because sometimes knowing what you need won't lead to being bold but being bold can often get you to identify what you need help with. So, make a list of all the caregiving related tasks you have for your loved one. Tasks like taking him/her to doctor appointments, doing laundry, picking up medications, preparing meals, etc., are examples of tasks that potentially can be handled by someone else. Making a list of such tasks can help pave the way for you to delegate them to others.
3). Do Something for Yourself: Yes, I'm sure you have heard this from many other people and think to yourself, "Yeah right! As if that is going to happen." My response to you is, "It needs to happen." Caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your loved one. Without a chance to recharge your energy and your spirit, you will just be an empty shell. Doing something for yourself does not have to be anything elaborate or take much time. Perhaps it is attending a church service, going for a walk around the block, treating yourself to takeout, watching your favorite show or listening to some music. The point is, if it is something you find enjoyable, try to do it for 15 minutes. If you have enough time to allocate an hour, even better. Just do it!
Incorporating the above recommendations to take better care for yourself will more than likely not happen overnight, but with practice and serious effort, it can turn into something that can become part of your routine. Do you have recommendations on what caregivers can do to better care for themselves? If so, please share them below for other subscribers to read.
In a previous post, I discussed the unique hardships young caregivers experience when faced with the responsibility of caring for a loved one. A dynamic that is especially true when young caregivers are also going through life transitions like finishing up college, embarking on a new career and/or starting a new family. In this post, I share a few strategies young caregivers can employ to help make caregiving more manageable:
1) Identify what needs to be done - make a list of what needs to be done for your loved one and for yourself. The list for your loved one should include everything from quick tasks like picking up medications to more intense tasks like physically assisting them with bathing, dressing, eating, etc. as well as everything in between. The list for yourself should include tasks and goals associated with your career, relationships, and anything else that pertains to your personal life.
2) Be realistic and structured with your time - Having such a list is meant to visually show you what your day really looks vs. what you think it looks like. Having a greater understanding of what your day to day responsibilities are can, in many cases, help you create more structure. More structure has the potential to reduce any anxiety that can arise from feeling overwhelmed and feeling like you are losing control.
Once you know what needs to be structured, the next step is to utilize tools like a calendar, a notepad, etc. Whether used in a hard copy or an app format, such tools can help remind you about appointments, deadlines, events, pertinent contact information and important discussions with your loved one's medical team and service collaborators. Use of a calendar, specifically, can also help you maintain a level of sanity as it help prevents overbooking or overpromising.
3) Learn how to delegate - Now that you have a clear picture of what you must handle for yourself and your loved one, identify and explore which tasks can be handled by others. In other words, if you find yourself spending a lot of time going to the grocery store to pick up essentials or escorting your loved one to doctor's appointments, perhaps there is someone else in your family or social circle who can pitch in. Delegating tasks can relieve the stress associated with trying to manage it all.
4) Rally the troops - In order to delegate, it means you have to "ask for help" - one of the hardest things for caregivers to do. While there are numerous reasons to explain this hardship, some of the most common include fear of being judged and/or having pride. Rallying the troops basically entails finding resources in your communitythat can help make your life more manageable. This can include home care assistance, shopping services, food/medication delivery services, etc. In other words, the goal is to find other individuals and/or programs that can help out so that you don't have to do it all.
The strategies mentioned above are simply a starting point I recommend for the majority of caregivers I work with. Once such strategies are implemented, it then allows us to get a better sense of what will work and what needs to be modified. Caring for a loved one while navigating life milestones can be difficult but it is not impossible. Hopefully these strategies can help you get a good start.
Have you found any of the above to be helpful in your caregiving experience? Do you have other strategies you would recommend to other caregivers? If so, please share so below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.