By Joan Lunden
Nearly 50 million Americans are caregivers for a family member either in their own homes or in an outside facility. I am a caregiver for my 93-year-old mom, so family caregiving is a subject close to my heart. Like me, many of today’s caregivers are part of the Sandwich Generation — simultaneously raising children and caring for elderly parents.
The daily stress a caregiver endures can be overwhelming, and when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or when they attempt to do more than they are able to — emotionally, physically or financially — they can experience “caregiver burnout.” Any way you slice it, caregiving is a difficult role, no matter how much you love your mom, your dad, or whomever you’re caring for.
Here are a few tips to help you deal with the stress of this challenging role.
Let it go. Don’t worry; feelings of guilt, anger and resentment are normal. So just acknowledge them and move on.
Think quality, not quantity. Rather than feel guilty that you aren’t spending enough time with your loved one, think of how you can improve the quality of your time together. Making my mom photo albums and reminiscing with her, or playing a game of bingo means a lot more to her than cleaning her room.
Set limits. If your loved one’s demands are running you ragged, set limits as to what you’re realistically able and willing to do. Call a family meeting to discuss how others might share the caregiving duties.
Take time to take care of yourself. Your life is important too. Make sure that you maintain your friendships, stay involved in hobbies and take time to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. I am passionate about helping women find ways to attend to their own health and happiness. I have many caregivers take a “time out” at my women’s wellness retreat in Maine, Camp Reveille. If you are feeling overwhelmed, make sure to reach out to others for support and talk to a professional.
Redefine your concept of caring. If you can’t provide “hands-on” care, then look for other ways you can help. Perhaps you can chip in to pay for an outside caregiver or provide weekly grocery shopping and cook meals in advance. We all “give care” differently — add value where you can make a difference.
Act from love, not from a sense of debt. Many adult children feel that caring for a parent is repayment for all they did raising them; this attitude almost always leads to resentment and tension. Try to think of caregiving as one person helping another out of love.
Forgive and forget. If a parent was unkind when you were a child, let it go and forgive them — even if you feel he or she doesn’t deserve it. Holding grudges will not only affect your ability to care for your parent, but it will also hurt you.
Foster their independence. Look for ways to help them do what they can for themselves — it can help your parent become more independent — and can free up precious time for you.
Face the facts. When that time comes that your aging relative needs round-the-clock care, accept that someone (or someplace) may be better equipped to provide your parent’s care than you are.
Caregiving is a complex journey, but there are many resources that can help you along the way. One resource I recommend is http://www.aplaceformom.com/. You can log on, for free, and a senior advocate in your local area will help you assess your loved ones needs, find the perfect place for them to live and assist you in finding other senior resources available to you.
I want to thank my friend and colleague, Dr. Alexis Abramson, a gerontologist who is one of our experts on my RLTV caregiving show, Taking Care with Joan Lunden, for helping with these tips and for teaching me how to be a better caregiver.
Joan Lunden is one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities. As host of Good Morning America for almost two decades, she helped millions of American families start each day. The longest-running host ever on early morning television, during her tenure she reported from 26 countries, covered four presidents, five Olympics, and two royal weddings. An award-winning television journalist, best-selling author, motivational speaker, entrepreneur and mother of seven, Lunden defines “today’s working mother.” She is the host of Lifetime Television’s Health Corner, and her latest venture has been the creation of Reveille, a wellness getaway for women to energize spirits, renew sense of self, jump start fitness regimens, learn the tools needed to achieve a healthier balance in their lives and more.