Arlington, VA

Aging Right @ Home is a monthly blog series, answering your questions on providing care for individuals with disabilities, loved ones with dementia and older adults aging in place. If you have a question, please submit to [email protected].  

As a Certified Senior Advisor and Certified Dementia Practitioner, I get asked a lot of questions from those seeking advice or care for their aging loved ones, especially those with dementia or other disabilities.

As the owner of one of the largest and longest operating in-home senior care service providers in the area, I witness first-hand the needs many of these families have in providing care.

November is National Family Caregivers Month and being a family caregiver is a labor of love and it can be extremely rewarding. While rewarding, I’ve heard from many that at times the role can also feel like an obligation that is emotionally draining. In addition to the physical and emotional challenges you face, being a family caregiver may create financial strain as well — as many caregivers tend to reduce their hours or take extended (or indefinite) leaves.

Based on these struggles, here are some tips on how to be a better resource for your family caregiver. And, as always, to submit a question, you can reach me at [email protected].

How Can I Help a Family Caregiver Reduce Stress?

Listen for cues of depression and small cries for help: Family caregivers spend many hours helping the person in need.  This can create a sense of self-isolation, loneliness or even depression. They often focus on the needs of others so much that they turn off their own feelings. A close family friend’s father was diagnosed with cancer and while her mother was the primary caregiver, she became distant and controlling.

Many years later, and after a full and successful recovery by her father, her mother was able to acknowledge she acted this way because of the feeling of isolation. Loved ones always asked how her husband was doing with treatment, but they never asked how she was coping with being his primary caregiver, or how she felt about the possibility of losing her husband. She had difficulty expressing these anxieties to others and over time she felt a sense of resentment, which in turn created feelings of guilt and self-doubt.

This situation could occur to anyone of us and while we never second guess the need to care for a loved one, each of us still has the need to express our emotions and feel supported. So, the next time you ask how the patient is doing, also ask how the family caregiver is doing. Realize they are both struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, and both should be supported.

Show gratitude and ask about the caregivers needs and emotions: It is easy to use the primary family caregiver as a gateway into the patient’s life. This subconscious boundary may occur because you don’t want to intrude or you’re just not sure where you fit in to the overall care team.

That’s okay. However, make sure the conversations are not just about the patient. Ask questions about the family caregiver.

When was the last time you went for a walk? Are you able to maintain your regular work schedule? How are you emotionally handling the situation These questions will offer valuable insight into the well-being of the family caregiver and help them think of themselves for a change, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

This slight shift in emotional focus can be a welcomed reprieve for family caregivers who take on the difficult job of caring for a loved one.

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