Caregiver Stress - Getting Help

| Sunday, March 13, 2011
By Janet Smytherton

Being the primary caregiver for an elderly parent can bring untold physical and emotional stress. The combination of the emotional toll that it can take along with the mental strain and the physical tasks the seem never-ending can literally make you sick. It may seem like a clich, but in order to help others, you must first help yourself. Managing the stress can start with the simple but important step of reconciling goals with realistic expectations. To make a good start, take pen to paper, listing all the things that need to be done. Making it a comprehensive list, including even minimal tasks helps to objectify the problem.

The next step is to list all the available resources. Don't forget to consider alternative arrangements as a possible resource, and find out what's available in your area - assisted living facilities, nursing home care, board and care facilities, home health care, hospice, etc. If these measures are not necessary or appropriate, and you are able to care for your loved one at home, make a list of those who can help: members of the household, relatives, church members and others. Meal preparation, shopping for personal needs, household repairs, driving for appointments, yard work, filing insurance claims and relief care giving are all items that can possibly be delegated. Other suggestions might be help with taking a walk (perhaps with a walker or wheelchair), reading a newspaper or book to the loved one, or something that enriches their life.

Talk to those other resource people and find out what they are willing to do to help. Remember, many of these people may really want to help, but they are not as close to the situation as you are and they may be uncertain how to provide assistance to you. Find out what things they would enjoy doing. If they don't have any ideas, share the list of items that need to be done with them, and they might see how they could best contribute to the effort.

Now, match up some of those resources to the list of items that need to be done. Try to make matches that take into consideration the person's availability, schedule, preferences and abilities. Don't be hesitant to delegate. You may not get as much help as you would like, but at least it's a beginning. In some ways, it may seem like you are farming out the job you most want to do yourself. Save your energy for the bigger picture, and let go of the need to control every aspect of the care.

You are actually doing a more important job by managing the entire process. You are the best person to know the person's needs. Coordinating the jobs and managing the process is the most important job of all. Be sure to let others who are helping know how much you appreciate their help. By knowing how valuable their contributions are, they will feel rewarded for their work.

Once some help is in place, take some time for yourself. Joining a support group of caregivers will allow you to share your thoughts with others who will truly understand your situation. It may not be as much time as you would like, perhaps only an hour or two, but make the most of it. Don't forget to visit your own doctor and dentist regularly as well as taking time for a walk in fresh air. Managing the stress effectively will help to make you the best caregiver that you can be.

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