How to Manage your Role as Caretaker

KSL TV Studio 5

We’ve been talking a great deal lately about the importance of taking care of ourselves – getting fit and staying healthy – and no one is in more need of that than those who find themselves in the role of “caretaker.”

Nearly 22 million Americans are caregivers for their parents or other loved ones. While it can be an honor to play the role, it can also take its toll on the hearts and minds of those providing the care. Dr. Liz shares some thoughts.

It seems that as we as Americans are living increasingly longer lives, more and more of us are going to require ongoing, long-term care, and this care often falls on the shoulders of grown children. 22 million Americans are currently playing an integral role in this care-giving sandwich where they have growing children and grandchildren and on one side, and aging parents on the other. It is so easy to feel fragmented – and that there just isn’t enough of you to go around. I recently spoke with an adult daughter Kay, whose mother Cindy has been diagnosed with AD and she said, “there are times when I need to be a wife to my husband, mother to my daughter, and grandma to a grandchild, as well as daughter AND mother to my mom. It can be overwhelming…to whom do I go to first?”

Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down into what you’re NOT doing as a caregiver; we often hear adult children talk about how guilty they feel in this role. It seems that no matter what they’re doing, it just never feels like enough!

Caregivers learn very quickly about the painful burden of guilt, especially as it relates to our aging parents. It’s important to remember that no matter what we do or how hard we try, we will never be able to give back in kind what was given to us by our parents. The best way to repay our parents for their love and care is by playing the cycle of love and care forward with our own children and families.

It seems that when we understand that we will never be able to fully reciprocate what our parents have given us, it can ease some of the frenzied struggle to do more than we can humanly do and frees up more of our energy to be creative in meeting family members’ needs. We must find a way to attend to others’ needs without going down ourselves. The most vulnerable person in the care giving role is the caregiver themselves!

Kay’s family is a great example of how a loving family can use their creativity and skills to simplify the care giving of their dear mother. Fortunately for them, several of them can play various key roles: Kay’s daughter, Cindy, is in charge of the medical appointments and, with Power of Attorney, is responsible for maintaining the relationships with medical professionals. Furthermore, she sees to it that her mother has all of her medications in her pill box, and calls her day and night reminding her to take them, often keeping Kay on the phone until the pills have been swallowed. Another daughter orders her mothers groceries on-line once a week, and they are delivered to her door! This is more affordable than you can imagine; $10.00 a delivery and what a savings in one’s time! Another benefit in addition to saving family members time and energy, is the savings in the grocery bill. In other words, when mom would go shopping with them, she’d likely be interested in buying more than she needed or could possibly use because of her inability to plan meals as she had once so skillfully done.

Another family member receives Kay’s mail and sees to it that all the bills are paid – that way Kay doesn’t have to deal with important mail, just the fun junk mail and catalogues that arrive.

Here are some overall tips for those of you who may be facing the all-important role of care giver:

Remember that “care” is the operative word here. To be a loving caregiver is likely the highest form of giving – but in order to maintain care giving you must give care to yourself as well. Maintain a doable, flexible schedule. Learn to say “No” to non-priorities. There is a time and season for all things; someone else can fill in the blanks that you can’t. You can be much more easily replaced on the PTA than as caregiver to your parent.
Eat nutritious foods, move your body a bit every day, and get plenty of rest. Don’t be afraid to laugh! Find the funny aspects of dementia – Kay says that the best part about her Alzheimer’s diagnosis is that she gets to blame it for any and all blunders she makes.

Care giving was never meant to be a solo act. Make a list of family members, friends, and neighbors who offer to assist you. When you can’t make it to pick up that prescription or meet the home-health nurse, call someone from your list who want so much to aid you and your loved one. When you delegate, you earn staying power – it breaths new life into your steps. The Alzheimer’s Association is a tremendous resource for accessing respite care and support groups. Who better to understand what you’re going through than someone who’s been there?

Study the particular disease and treatment of your loved one. Knowledge is power – and we all need to feel armed with the most up-to-date, accurate information. Ask questions, take notes at doctor’s appointments, don’t rely on your own memory for there is so much that you need to attend to. Become familiar with services available to you and your family. Even if you don’t need them now, get on the waiting list for respite care and day care centers in the event that it becomes a welcomed opportunity.

The best advice came from Kay and Cindy – enjoy the moments together. Share what needs to be shared. Even if a loved one isn’t coherent – you can reach them on another level. Touch them – rub their feet. Reassure them that you’re there. Don’t underestimate the soothing effects of music and the pleasant memories it can illicit. My mother always responded to the music we’d play for her even though she was unable to verbalize much in her latter stages of Alzheimer’s, it was so enjoyable to see the look of recognition on her face when her favorite song was played.

Utah Alzheimer’s Association: (801) 265-1944
UCare Resources: