Most of us will be caretakers at some time in our lives. Caregivers are technically anyone caring for their elderly parents, an ill or disabled spouse, or a sick child. Services can be performed on a full-time or part-time basis.
Two-thirds of all caregivers are female.
The role of caretaker varies widely depending on the diagnosis of the patient. Helping an elderly mother with light housework and grocery shopping is relatively easy. Caring for a husband with advanced Alzheimer’s disease is a long, complicated process.
The act of caregiving is often accompanied by a mixed bag of emotions. Few people set out to become caretakers.
Instead, the majority find themselves thrust into the role by a loved one’s accident, sudden illness or age-related decline. They must simultaneously take care of the person’s physical needs while addressing their own assortment of loss, sadness, anger and unexpected life changes.
Guilt and resentment
Most caregivers are conscientious and go to great lengths to tend to their loved one’s needs. In fact, many grapple with guilt when they’re unable to solve the problem or alleviate the patient’s suffering.
Caregivers may resent taking care of another person. Many have to put their own goals or careers on the back burner. Some also shoulder an inordinate share of the chores while other family members do little or nothing to assist.
Caretaking duties may interfere with other responsibilities, such as raising young children or earning a living. Caregivers often feel torn about where to expend their energies and worry that they’re letting others down.
To make matters worse, caregivers sometimes find themselves at odds with other family members about the best way to handle the illness. Siblings may second-guess their decisions, even when they live out of the area.
Caregiving can be complicated by the presence of difficult relationships.
For instance, a woman who was abandoned in infancy by her alcoholic father now cares for him full time since his stroke. Or a husband who was criticized nonstop by his wife continues to be browbeaten as he changes her bedpan and administers her medications.
Power struggles arise as patients, who are losing control of their lives and bodies, attempt to reclaim control by dominating their caregivers. They manifest their frustration by becoming bossy, disagreeable, critical, suspicious and accusatory. In these situations, caregivers must not only make most of the decisions but must do so amid contentious, unappreciative conditions.
While caregiving is a challenging stage of our lives, few of us would pass up the opportunity to tend to our loved ones. Yes, it can be time consuming and inconvenient.
Still, it enhances family members’ intimacy and teaches invaluable lessons about the real meaning of life and love.
TIPS FOR CAREGIVERS
Learn about your loved one’s condition. Become an expert on the diagnosis and what to expect in the future.
Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes. Use your errors as teachable moments, then move on to the next task.
Protect your emotional resources. You can’t be a good caretaker if your own energy is low. Give your emotional, physical and spiritual needs high priority.
Get support. Join a group that specializes in your loved one’s diagnosis. You’ll get the information you need and be surrounded by caring, likeminded people.
Trust your instincts. You know your loved one best. Listen to medical advice, but don’t discount your gut feelings.
Encourage loved ones’ independence. Give them opportunities to function and make decisions as they are able. They reclaim a sense of control, and you get a much-needed break.
Get back-up care. Don’t expect to be on duty 24/7. Find adequate respite care. Take regular vacations.