When the season comes to care for our loved ones, we may desire to meet the challenge whole-heartedly. However, quickly life can become overly full and soon we may feel our own personal lives starting to slip away. The experiences of caregiver burnout and stress are normal and should be expected. Below are some tips on how to care for yourself when you are caring for an aging adult in your life
How Can We Cope with Caring for an Aging Parent?
There are an estimated 43 million Americans who act as unpaid care-givers who also fight feelings of caregiver fatigue and strain. Feelings of being overwhelmed and needing support are familiar to many in our community. We most likely have people or resources in our lives that are ready and willing to jump in and support us and using them will increase our energy as we prevent caregiver burnout. It’s critical to create support networks, identify the ones you have, and utilize them well. The first step in self-care is prioritizing it, and that will require saying yes to support from other individuals and places.
Building a Family Support Network
It is important to divide up our care-taking responsibilities, as much as we are able, among natural supports and family. If you are the primary caregiver, other supports can still help. Relying on others help lessen the load on our caregiver plate, and also allow our family to be involved in a loved one’s aging journey. Multigenerational care has been shown to be beneficial for everyone in a family unit, especially the youngest and eldest generations. Here are some tips on how to share the caregiving load with your family.
Create at-home schedules or calendars where all family members fill in on house-chores, simple tasks they can do for grandmas or grandpa, or errands that can complete to give you a break. Some families even use a dry-erase caretaker calendar in their kitchen so that everyone has access to key caretaking information and opportunities. Search online for free or low-cost caregiving calendars. If available, reach our to your aging parents religious organizations to ask for help as well.
Be intentional with planning visits where out-of-town siblings or other family members can come to give us rest. The more we can plan these visits in advance with our siblings or larger family network, the more we can benefit and focus on self-care in this time. While it might be tempting to use this time-off to catch up on our own chores and tasks, instead, we should be intentional with focusing on replenishing our own energy. Whether it is planning our own vacation at this time or doing a stay-cation with a set of books, use this time to well.
Let a partner, spouse, or friends treat us to indulgences, even if we have to request them. Often, in a caretaker role we can focus on the needs of others so long that we deny nice moments for ourselves because they feel selfish or unnecessary. However, they are so important as we cope with our caregiving expectations. So, if a spouse or loved one offers or agrees to a night off, a spa day, to bring in food, say yes without guilt!
Be clear on who your network is and communicate your needs and expectations. Clear communication is key so everyone can be on the same page, understands what is expected, and feels empowered to help. The more honest and clear we can be with our expectations and needs for help, the more we can avoid burnout and caregiver stress.
Using Offers for Help
Too often we have an attitude of “I can do it myself” which, while honorable, can burn us out too fast as we try to care for an aging adult. When people offer help, whether practical or emotional, consider accepting it. Let others take on smaller tasks that can be delegated. Some of those tasks could include medication pick-ups, food drop offs, shopping errands, check-in phone calls, and more.
Additionally, studies show that often emotional support can be just as helpful as practical help to prevent burnout. It is all too easy brush it off when someone asks how we are doing, but actually opening up and sharing our caregiving experience with someone we trust is also a way to receive support from others and will lessen stress.
Be open to talking to others about your experience and you might be surprised how life-giving it can be.
Consider Outside Resources
While a personal network may offer us plenty of support, we may find that sometimes outside assistance could be of benefit. From online community support groups to care-giver focused assistance from government programs, there is support out there in people and places we maybe have not even met yet. If you are working, check with your employer’s HR department to find out what caregiver resources they offer.
Each program varies from federal, to state, to local programs, which can be overwhelming. However, most counties and major cities have individuals who are there to help us as we navigate these systems.
How Can We Create Boundaries & Prevent Burnout
As a loved one leans more on us for their needs, it is all too easy to become burnt out if we do not create boundaries for ourselves. Be prepared to say “no” to things that can wait. Outline and clearly communicate what hours are available and which are unavailable, unless there is an emergency.
Decide which weekly tasks require attention and which ones can be delegated to a family member or outside help, even if the instinct is to “just do it yourself.” The more we can create a system of boundaries, although it may feel uncomfortable, the more energy we are giving ourselves long-term for loving our aging adults well.
Weekly Wins and How to Choose Them
One easy method to support our personal boundaries is identifying each week a variety of ways we will care for ourselves. Caring for oneself, however, has layers. Consider self-care to include focusing on care for the body, the mind and the soul. A manicure or even a walk in the park can do wonders for your state of mind.
It is up to each individual how you want to carve out their schedule for self-care. Maybe you want to try to find 10 minutes every day for a bath, or a few times a week for an exercise class. Give your mind, body, and soul equal opportunities to rest and recharge each week.
Weekly Wins for the Body
Movement or exercise can be a hard routine to establish in the easiest of times, so of course it can be an added challenge for a busier care-givers schedule. A majority of Americans struggle to stick a work-out plan and it can seem almost impossible when you are a stressed caregiver.
However, it has been shown that 2-3 hours a week of physical activity or movement can greatly reduce stress and burn-out. And what is important to highlight is that movement for our bodies does not have to be an aggressive, strict plan. Instead of focusing on “exercise” focus on ways to move your body consistently and creatively each week.
Find what type of movement speaks to you and create a weekly rhythm for it. Perhaps it can even creatively include a loved one as well!
A Few Tips for Movement:
- Going for a jog while listening to music or podcast
- Walking with a loved one (movement for them and you!)
- Practicing yoga before or after some meditative time
- Playing games or tag in the backyard with the kids instead of watching
- Finding a home project that you’ve wanted to do and doing the labor yourself instead of hiring for it
Weekly Wins for the Mind
Find time each day to set aside to quiet your own mind, to moderate your own breathing and to create some space for you. Find breathing and relaxation techniques that work for you and include them in your daily schedule.
Breathwork may seem like a strange topic to some, but it has been proven to reduce stress, increase cardiovascular health, and calm your mind. Finding even 10 minutes to sit and breathe, meditate, or to close your eyes will give yourself the break you need but may not have noticed.
A Few Tips for Quieting the Mind:
If quieting your mind or focusing your breath is an intimidating topic, thankfully there are lots of ways to be assisted through it. There are dozens of applications for your smartphone that guide you through some of these techniques. Also, there are thousands of videos online for simple guided meditation. Do a few minutes of research and try out some of these assisting programs if you want some help in this area.
Weekly Wins for the Soul
Loneliness can become all too real if we’ve begin sacrificing our social time repeatedly. This can be severely harmful to our long-term overall health. Be sure to still prioritize a way to connect with others. It may need to be creatively different than your usual previous “hangouts.” However, connecting with our own circle regularly is key in your long-term emotional health.
Also, don’t shouldn’t forget your own hobbies and interests. The time we carve out for our soul needs to be something that recharges us. So, if you love reading, listening to music, or playing a game make time for it.
Often times, these moments for the soul can creatively overlap with other benefits, showing us that self-care does not have to be an extra burden to shove into the schedule. Rather, it can be something we can plan for and benefit greatly from.
A Few Tips for Filling the Soul:
Here are some ideas on how to creatively care for our soul:
- During family time, pick something that brings you joy, not just the family, such as your favorite game or movie.
- Go for a walk for movement, but schedule a call to catch up with a friend while walking
- Find an interesting podcast to listen to while driving between errands
- Join a book of the month club where you automatically get sent a new book each month to read
- Join a subscription box that meets your interests and budget to give you something to unpack and look forward to each month
Financial Questions & Options
A common question is “how much can you get paid for caring for elderly parents?” And it is fair question considering that family caregivers usually go underpaid or unpaid. The answer is complicated, and largely depends on a loved one’s specific experience and the different state and federal programs available.
Can I Get Paid for Aiding My Veteran Loved One?
In an effort to encourage aging in place, there are a handful of programs available to veterans that allow them financial assistance and even stipends for at home family care givers. These various programs are available through your local VA office or online portal. If your loved one is not a veteran, there are still a few programs available through their Medicaid assistance.
Can I Get Paid for Aiding My Medicaid Loved One?
Along with various medical financial assistance benefits, Medicaid also has a few cash and counseling programs that, for those eligible, can help pay for at-home caregivers including family members, and can reimburse you for some of the time and work you contribute to your aging parent’s care. Contact your local Medicaid office or portal for more information and eligibility requirements.
Can I Get Paid by Social Security for Taking Care of My Loved One?
Generally, the answer is that SSI or SSDI will not pay directly for private caregiving except for a few specific situations. However, there are other benefits available through the Social Security administration and often if a loved one qualifies for SSI or SSDI, they also will qualify for other financial assistance programs, such as Medicaid, local assistance programs, and more.
If a loved one qualifies for assistance though Social Security, it is encouraged to plan out their financial assistance well for private care giving and connect next with your local office for more information for other assistance programs available.
No matter how much you care for your loved one, the feeling of guilt is common. The burden of guilt will only make your job that much harder. Let’s unpack some sources of caregiver guilt and ways to overcome them.