Avoiding Caregiver Guilt

“Mom is due at the doctor at 10:30, and my boss just called a staff meeting.” When you’re providing care for an elderly loved one, it’s not uncommon to feel torn between work, your loved one’s needs, and your other responsibilities.

Frustrated business woman with clock

According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), nearly 66 million Americans provide care to a loved one. The value of this caregiving has reached $522 billion per year. And yet, in spite of all they do for the people they care about, many caregivers often feel guilty that they’re not doing enough. As many of these caregivers are relatively young (the average age for a caregiver is 48, according the n4a), they may also feel guilty about spending too much time with their loved one at the expense of spending time at work or with their families. Many caregivers also report feelings of resentment, increasing their guilt factor. All of this guilt can add additional stress to the already challenging task of caregiving.

The first step in retaining some balance in your life and shedding your sense of guilt is to recognize that what you’re feeling is completely normal. Realizing your situation is one shared by millions of others who are experiencing the same emotions can go a long way in helping you cope. Here are some other tips to help you take back your life.

Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. You may harbor some anger and frustration towards the person for whom you’re caring. You may feel a profound sadness that the person you once knew is slipping away from you. You sometimes may resent the time you spend with your loved one because it’s taking time away from your career or other family responsibilities. Understand that these feelings are completely normal and grant yourself permission to feel them.

Set boundaries. As far as it is possible, let your loved one know when there are specific times that you will be unavailable for routine assistance. If you have a specific event you need to attend, let your loved one know and provide an alternate source of help, if possible. If you’re going to meet your loved one in person, call ahead and ask if they need anything, so you don’t have to turn around the minute you arrive to pick up a prescription or food. Explain to your family and boss what is going on with you: it’s better that they know why you might be late sometimes, or unable to attend an event you would normally not miss.

Make connections. Find a friend you can confide in or see a counselor to help you sort out your emotions. Support groups are also a wonderful way to connect with others in the same situation. You’ll likely discover that the simple act of telling your story to a receptive audience and listening to others can be very healing. Many long-term friendships have formed among caregiver family members.

Ask family members for help. Enlist support from other relatives. If they live far away, explain what’s going on and ask them if they would be willing to take a weekend or a week to help. Explain the toll that assuming sole responsibility for caregiving is having on you. If they aren’t able to provide support in person, ask for financial help for medications, food, or hiring a professional home caregiver.

Discover community resources. Check out the resources that are available in your community, such as local Area Agencies on Aging, senior service providers, and senior centers. These organizations can provide information on specific diseases, general topics on caregiving and aging, as well as service providers that can help in a number of ways.

Enlist the support of professional caregivers. Professional caregivers can provide a variety of support services, including helping your loved get dressed and bathed, grocery shopping, medication management and even light housekeeping. If your loved one has more clinical needs, home health professionals can provide nursing and therapeutic services as well.

Take care of yourself. When one gets caught up in a caregiving role, it’s easy to let other things slide – things like going to the gym and grocery store or getting together with friends. But being a good caregiver means taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s important eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, socialize, and to continue to feed your spirit, whether that’s reading a good book, going to a movie, or walking the family dog.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2015.