How to Balance Caregiving with Your Personal Needs
Caregiving at a distance.
Coordinating care when you don’t live in the same community can be time consuming, expensive and frustrating. Nearly one-quarter of people caring for elderly relatives do so at a distance2. The following resources and strategies can help:
- Geriatric care managers can guide you through care choices and help monitor the care when you don’t live nearby.
- Technology such as personal emergency response systems, remote monitoring devices, mobile apps with medical records and electronic calendar reminders can help you juggle your many tasks as well as provide some peace of mind that your parent is safe.
- Try to make repeated travel for caregiving easier. Consider keeping a few clothing items and some basic necessities at your parent’s home. You can also investigate deals with airlines, rental cars, and hotels that can make booking easier and rewarding.
- Organization is essential for the long-distance caregiver. No running back over. Keep a journal of your parent’s appointments, including dates, who was present and what was discussed; consider using online calendars and reminders; carry on your person contact information for their doctors, insurance companies, and neighbors. Keep a list of their medications with you too.
Work and caregiving.
More than 26 million American workers are also caregivers for their parents or older relatives and friends. Often employers are sympathetic to the plight of caregivers, but many employees are hesitant to be open with their supervisors about their responsibilities. Find out if your company has policies or programs to support caregivers. There may be benefits or services that can help ease your situation. Think about taking advantage of flex-time or working from home to help open up your schedule. If you need more time off, consider asking whether you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Most people are covered by the Act, but if you work for a small company or haven’t worked for your employer long, you may not be included and you may not be able to afford to take unpaid leave.
Understand the financial impact.
Your personal finances can take a hit from caregiving—from time off of work, cutting back on hours, or passing up promotions to buying groceries and prescriptions for your parents or traveling repeatedly to see them. Try to calculate these costs when budgeting with your parents. If possible, stay in the workforce to increase retirement income later.
Advocate for you.
Consider telling your doctor that you are a caregiver for someone and this extra work has increased your stress level. Discuss ways to manage stress. Let your parent’s doctor know that you are their primary caregiver and you need information on their condition and the treatments prescribed. Ask for training if you are expected to do procedures at home. Some professionals might be reluctant to share information. But, most professional offices have a form you and your parent can sign giving their doctor or other professionals permission to discuss their care with you.
Recognize your emotions.
How you came into the role as a caregiver can influence how you feel about the experience. Perhaps you have always been close to your parents and you see this role as your chance to give in return the loving care they gave to you and your family. Others may have been pushed into the responsibility and feel resentful because they are stretched with their own work and children. Then there are those who enter caregiving reluctantly, but discover it’s a chance to mend a broken or distant relationship and experience healing through their role. However, you arrived to this responsibility; it’s helpful to recognize your emotions and realize that you are a role model for what it means to be family for the young people in your life.
Caregiving can be emotionally draining and lead to feelings of frustration, doubt, guilt and anger. Allow yourself to take a break. Tend to your own needs for exercise, sleep, and healthy eating. Find ways to reduce your stress—whether it’s taking in a good movie, walking with a friend, or carving out time for a hot bath. Treat yourself to something fun. Not every minute of your day needs to be scheduled to take care of your children, parents or work. You run the risk of burning out if you don’t listen to your own needs. If you take the time to care for yourself, you often return to your responsibilities renewed and better able to provide care for your loved ones. To cope, consider tapping into social networks such as www.facebook.com/aarp, www.caringbridge.org, and others for support. Or try the social e-cards to help express how you’re feeling and gain support.
Caregiving services and support groups.
There’s comfort in knowing others are experiencing the same ups and downs as you. It may also give you ideas about other strategies and resources available to lighten your load. We mentioned community services to help your parents, but there are community services that can help the caregiver. Don’t feel guilty about needing time off or help with understanding complex information; and remember that your parent may also benefit from having a wider circle of care. The National Family Caregiver Support Program provides information, education, training, referral to local services and respite to the caregivers of people ages 60 and over. Consider finding your local program through the Eldercare Locator on aarp.org/caregiving.
Finding it difficult to reach out for support? Post a social e-card with how you’re feeling today.
Have you and your loved ones discussed potential caregiving needs? Try these conversation starters with your loved ones.
1Caregiving in the U.S., The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2009.
2Caregiving in the U.S., The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2009