Caring for Caregivers

As life expectancy increases it is not uncommon to find baby boomers coping with the pressures of full time work and the care of elderly parents.

Some caregivers find the experience brings a sense of purpose, while others find it lonely and struggle to cope with dual demands of career and caregiving. An increasingly common option in the United States, especially among female caregivers, is to leave work temporarily or permanently.

Although every caregivers experience is different, what doesn’t change is the need for caregivers to also care for themselves.
Anna Down, an Auckland Social worker who provides care and needs assessment for older people, has seen the consequences of caregivers who push themselves to the limit.
“They can experience serious health problems, to the point that they are not only not able to continue with the caring role but may themselves need some level of care and support”, she says,
“be alert to signs you may not be coping quite as well as you think you are. Some examples might be sleeping poorly, feeling moody, drinking more than usual and or a deterioration in relationships with colleagues and friends.”

Ten survival strategies for caregivers

1.    When you start caregiving consider your dependants preferences and have plans for crises.

2.    Decide what level of care and support you are able to provide and find out what benefits and help you are entitled to. Help includes financial assistance to enable the caregiver to get a break and practical aid such as building wheelchair ramps.

3.    Find out as much as you can about your dependants needs or condition for example Alzheimers.

4. Join a caregiver support network. Search for a carers' discussion group online. There are sites for specific conditions or disabilities such as www.parkinsons.org.nz and www.alzheimers.org.nz as well as sites aimed specifically at carers www.carers.net.nz and www.caringforcarers.org.nz .

5.    If sharing caregiving with other family members, communicate as often as possible.  

6.    Look at hiring out house maintenance tasks, like lawn and garden care.

7.    Try and spend quality time with your dependant. Look through photo albums, read to them or record stories of your family.

8.    Make sure you get time to yourself each day and take some time off. This is non negotiable and you are not being selfish.  This is essential if you are to stay healthy and happy.

9.    Continue to pursue your own interests or take one up and make time to see friends on a regular basis.

10.    Remember that it’s not unusual to feel frustrated or irritated with the person you care for, or resentful of your situation at times, and then to feel guilty about such feelings.  Be kind to yourself and try to focus on the things that have gone well, no matter how small.

Jo Buchan