Caring for your older relative or coordinating services for them through community agencies can be overwhelming. Feelings of frustration, depression, anger or guilt are not uncommon. Many caregivers decide to join a support group to provide emotional comfort. These groups allow people to share feelings and information and relieve stress, resentment and anxiety. Others seek help from their clergy or call their local agency on aging for assistance.
The following questionnaire will help you to become more aware of the stresses that you may be under. For each statement, answer for yourself whether each statement describes you or does not describe your situation.
I find I can't get enough rest.
I don't have time for myself.
I feel frustrated or angry.
I feel guilty about my situation.
I don’t get out much anymore.
I argue with the person I am caring for.
I argue with other family members.
I don't feel I know enough to be an effective caregiver.
If the response to one or more of these statements is "describes me," it may be time to begin looking for help with caring for your older relative and help in taking care of yourself.
Signs of Too Much Stress
PHYSICAL: headache, muscle aches, sleeping and eating problems, getting sick frequently.
EMOTIONAL: guilt, anger, loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
MENTAL: forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, attention wandering.
INTERPERSONAL: withdrawal, blaming, irritability, impatience, and sensitivity to criticism.
SPIRITUAL: feelings of alienation, loss of hope, purpose, and meaning.
What caregivers need most, say professionals, is a clear sense of their own limits as caregivers. This means you may want to try to:
· Talk openly with your aging relative and other family members.
· Assess the problems.
· Figure out where to get help.
· Decide how much help you can realistically supply.
As you begin to assess your own situation keep in mind:
(1) Caring for yourself is a priority.
(2) Know and respect your limits.
(3) Arrange for time for yourself (to be alone).
(4) Arrange for time with a spouse, other family and friends.
(5) Give yourself credit for things you do well.
(6) Caregiving can be a partnership in which you share responsibilities with others.
Fortunately there are some things that you can do to help manage caregiving stresses. The first step is to reflect on how you spend your time each day. Imagine a "typical" day. Ask yourself, "How much time do I spend?" (estimate the number of minutes or hours each day)
GIVING CARE TO AN OLDER PERSON _____
TAKING PART IN FAMILY ACTIVITIES _____
WORKING AT MY JOB _____
ACTIVITIES WITH FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS _____
SPIRITUAL ACTIVITIES _____
BEING ALONE _____
Total Hours _____
Now that you have sketched out how you spend your time, you can determine how much time you have for yourself and how much time you have with friends or other family members.
Nan Harris felt guilty about asking someone to stay with her father while she did errands but she couldn't find time to go food shopping or keep her own doctors' appointments. Even more troubling, she realized that the only person she was regularly talking to was her sister. Somehow, the challenges of arranging care for dad had taken a priority over keeping up with friends and her own interests. The second step may be to arrange for a substitute caregiver for short periods of time so that you can get some time away from your caregiving responsibilities.
Nan called her Area Agency on Aging for information about eldercare services. She was fortunate because there was a respite program near her which provides trained volunteers to act as substitute caregivers for short (2-4 hours) periods of time once a week. Nan later related that the "time I spent alone revitalized and recharged me."
Listening to music, reading, taking walks and other forms of exercise, can help you to better handle the stresses you may experience during the day. Taking care of personal business also can help you feel more in control of daily pressures. While most caregivers feel that they can, should or must provide all the care to their family member, carrying the total burden is not helpful and probably impossible in the long run.The third step is to ask for other assistance from family, friends, churches, in-home aide services and community agencies.
Before you dismiss the idea of seeking help consider these three points:
1. Additional help allows you to be a more effective caregiver by giving you time away from the person you are caring for.
2. Your spouse or older relative benefits by seeing and being with someone other than you.
3. Community-based services often allow the older family member to postpone using a nursing home by providing the more difficult and/or skilled care that is needed and can be provided in the home.