4 years ago · transitionalw · 0 comments
One of the most important reasons for a family meeting and a caregiver plan is to make sure none of the caregivers suffers from burnout. It takes planning and cooperation to make sure that everyone—not just the aging or ill loved one—doesn’t get overwhelmed, resentful, and completely fried. Here are some ways to prevent caregiver burnout.
Talk it out. First, when the one being cared for is capable of participating, involve everyone in a conversation about each person’s needs. There may be more than one family member involved in the care. Identify urgent needs, ones that, if not addressed, will be physically and emotionally detrimental to anyone on the family care team. Include the small, everyday needs, as they too are important for stress management.
My dad and I, for example, have complementary schedules. I like to go to bed early and then be up at the crack of dawn. Dad likes to stay up late and sleeps until noon or even later. This gives me the morning to take care of my own needs before he gets up. I walk four to nine miles daily, and I can do that while he’s still sleeping. I’m just a phone call away while walking and have our next-door neighbor on speed-dial in case of an emergency.
Physical activity. My long walks help me manage stress in my life and give me a personal sense of well-being. When I feel healthy and relaxed, I am a better caregiver. In addition, I do a Qigong practice daily to keep me centered and reduce stress. My sister, her husband and I still share in caring for my dad. It gives each of us the ability to stay connected in our own lives with work and family and friends.
Let the aging family member participate! Dad too does everything he is able. This is another reason it’s so important to include the aging family member in discussions. When they realize what a significant role they can play in their own lives and keeping the family sane, they’re more likely to rise to the occasion. There may come a time when Dad is no longer capable of doing some things for himself. But we have open conversations about that and live in the moment, day by day.
Each person accepts support differently, depending on their personalities and their life experiences, and my dad is no exception. He has learned to accept our support graciously. This time with him is a special time in my life to give back to him, the way he gave to me. His health-care needs are diverse. His personality is unlike my mother’s, and our relationship is very different from the one I had with my mom. All of these factors play into the support I offer and the support he will accept.
At ninety-five, Dad is mentally pretty sharp. He spent much of his adult life exercising through running, swimming, cycling, and walking miles each day. I believe this has contributed to his mental clarity. Physically, however, he is experiencing decline. He now suffers from spinal stenosis and peripheral neuropathy, making it difficult for him to get around unassisted. His medical condition is progressive, and due to his advanced age, surgery is not an option.
His frustration is in not being able to do some of the more basic things, such as getting things for himself; he has to rely on others. He often remarks,
“I don’t want to be a bother. I know you’re busy. I wish I could do these things for myself.”
Attitude. I have more skills since my mother and David’s deaths, plus more years of life experiences. One thing that has not changed is that providing care and support to my father, as with my mother and David, still brings more opportunities for me to grow, develop, and heal. It is helpful to continue in your own growth and development as you navigate the caregiving role.
Take care of yourself first. There have been times when I left my own needs at the door, making my dad’s life more important than my own. This is a trap many family caregivers fall into. Some neglect themselves for so long that, finally, they become physically ill or lash out with blame and anger toward the one they are caring for.
Last year, I took on more responsibility for my dad than I was able. My health suffered and I became ill. After two months of repeated relapse from a virus, I finally recovered. I felt so worried about him during my illness. But it was a wake-up call. I fly a lot and have been reminded many times that when traveling with someone who is unable to put his or her oxygen mask on, to put your own on first. I was unable to care for my dad when I was ill. I learned my lesson: I have to take care of myself so I can be there for him.
For so long I juggled my own needs with those of my mother, brother-in-law David, and now my dad. It has been challenging to be honest with myself about my own limitations. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do everything, to him or to myself. Asking for help has been hard.
My family and I had a family meeting to address my dad’s needs and ways to balance those with our own. It was a tough conversation for me. For the first time, I had to tell my dad that I couldn’t accommodate all of his needs. I had spent so much of my life taking care of everyone else that I felt bereft. There is a saying, “Where you do anything, you do everything.” This pattern has caused strain in many areas of my life.
An open, honest conversation made the difference. I was able to share my vulnerability, express my needs and find the support from my family members that has helped me to maintain balance in my life.
Morning Star Holmes M.A. is a Transitional Life Coach, Family Consultant and author of the book, Transitional Wisdom, A Guide to Healthy Aging & Completing Life with Dignity and a companion Transitional Wisdom Action Journal. She works with individuals and their family members experiencing age related decline, life-threatening illness and life transitions. For further information on Preventing Caregiver Burnout and to sign-up for a complementary pre-assessment of your family’s needs please contact Morning Star Holmes ~ firstname.lastname@example.org