Taking Care of the Caregiver
As I began to write the June newsletter, my thoughts drifted toward Father’s Day and my dad who was my mother’s primary caregiver. His passionate focus on my mother’s care set a high bar for the rest of our family to meet. I always knew that my parents loved each other. When the depth of their bond was tested by Alzheimer’s disease, I had the honor of helping my mother by supporting her primary caregiver, my father.
If you are supporting the primary caregiver, here’s some suggestions:
Offer a break from caregiving
Every caregiver needs time off. It could be as simple as taking the person they are caring for out to lunch. It could be as complicated as having your relative visit you for a few weeks or arranging and paying for an in home caregiver or respite stay at a senior care community. The biggest challenge may be getting your family member to accept your offer. Be persistent and patient in encouraging the caregiver to take a break.
It won’t be easy in some cases to offer gratitude. Frankly it’s complicated. The primary caregiver may not be able to graciously take in your thanks. It seems like part of the caregiver creed is to brush off praise and thanks. When you are in a difficult situation with the primary caregiver where you don’t agree with some of her choices or you have been criticized by her, it can be particularly challenging to offer thanks. Spend some time connecting with what you are grateful for before offering thanks.
Watch for burnout
Help your family member watch for caregiver burnout. Burnout looks like overwhelming tiredness and discouragement. It may look like anger causing the caregiver to lash out at you and/or the person they are caring for.
Listening without judgment is a great gift to the primary caregiver. Be tactful and ask permission before offering advice. Sometimes she just wants to pour out her troubles and is not asking you to fix things.
If you are the primary caregiver
Ask for help clearly and directly
Make it easy for other family members and friends to help you by asking for exactly what you need when caring for your family member. Don’t make caregiving into a test of character or a guessing game. Ask for what you need and tell them when you need it. Be prepared with suggestions for the times when someone says “how can I help?” or “I wish there was something I could do.” Yes, I know that some family members and friends will let you down and on the other hand some will rise to the occasion. How will you know until you try?
Watch for the signs of burnout
Burnout looks like overwhelming tiredness and discouragement. It may look like anger causing you to lash out at your family members and/or the person you are caring for.
Accept help uncritically
Please remember that there is more than one way to do anything. The quickest way to drive off a helper is to criticize her efforts. Unless it’s a matter of health or safety, be flexible.
Accept thanks and praise graciously
If at all possible, let your guard down and accept any praise or thanks that come your way. Just for one second put your guilty thoughts aside about how you could be doing more or the last time you got angry with the person you are caring for and just let the gratitude and praise wash over you. You are amazing and isn’t it nice to hear it?
I love this quote from Dr. William Thomas, the developer of the Eden Alternative
"The easy kind of love is the love that we have for and with people who know us and return that love to us in full in ways that we can easily understand...
So someone says, "I go to see my mom, she doesn't know my name. I hold her hand, she doesn't hold my hand back. I talk to her, she doesn't speak to me." There are a lot of people dealing with that, and here's a way to make sense out of it: Your mom is giving you a chance to take it to the next level, to give love simply and purely on the basis of love and compassion, not on the basis of asking, "what am I getting back out of this?" It's an advanced spiritual practice."
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