Caring for an elderly loved one can be challenging. It’s wonderful to be able to help an older family member enjoy their last years of life as much as possible. But being a caregiver is a huge responsibility that frequently leads to burnout and frustration.
Don’t make the common mistake of neglecting your own needs while caring for someone else’s, or you’ll soon become overwhelmed. Here are four ways to navigate the challenges of caring for an aging loved one while still maintaining your sanity.
1. Utilize Support Services
Various support services can make life a little easier for caretakers. For example, your state may offer caregiver resources and tools such as education, counseling, and training. You may also qualify for financial support, home health care coverage, and other benefits if the senior you’re caring for is a veteran. Some states allow caregivers to become paid through a consumer-directed personal assistance program offered by Medicaid. To see whether you qualify, contact the Medicaid office in your state.
Other important resources for caregivers include long-term care ombudsman programs. These are dedicated to resolving problems related to nursing homes. For example, if you have a financial dispute with your elder’s nursing home, contact a local ombudsman or lawyer. For more serious concerns, like suspected abuse, reach out to a nursing home abuse lawyer. They specialize in handling such issues and can advocate for you and your loved one.
Many caregivers don’t understand how many tools and resources are available to help them handle the challenges of caring for a beloved elder. The Administration for Community Living makes it easy to find information about available services such as respite care programs and aging and disability resource centers.
2. Communicate Effectively
As a caregiver, communication is essential. Your senior may feel confused, frightened, or insecure about changes happening to their body, mind, and living arrangements. It’s important to know how to speak in a compassionate, calm, and loving way to help them feel at ease. If your loved one doesn’t understand you, try slowing your rate of speech, talking louder (without yelling), and enunciating clearly. If communication continues to be an issue, it may be time to schedule an appointment with an audiologist.
Compassionate and kind communication is essential when you’re a caregiver. But you may also need to be firm and clear at times to establish important boundaries. Discuss your house rules and expectations with your loved one so they know what’s allowed and what isn’t. For example, you might have a rule that when you’re in a room with the door closed, they should not enter. Be prepared to explain this rule multiple times if they forget.
Finally, remember to give your beloved elder a voice in even seemingly mundane matters. Instead of saying, “We’re having salad for lunch today,” ask them, “Would you like some salad for lunch?” The first phrase sounds like an order and might make them feel like they have no say in the situation. Asking questions instead of ordering can give seniors a greater sense of empowerment and respect.
3. Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Many people experience caregiver burnout when they feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Beyond physical exhaustion, burnout occurs when you no longer have the mental or emotional energy to perform your duties. Common symptoms of caregiver burnout include withdrawal from the people you love, inability to concentrate, and feelings of hopelessness. You may also experience troubling feelings of anger and irritation toward your elderly loved one and others.
In many cases, you can avoid caregiver burnout by talking regularly to someone you trust. This person might be a therapist, friend, or family member. Having an outlet to voice your concerns, frustrations, and triumphs can be emotionally rejuvenating. Plus, other people may be able to see your situation more objectively than you can and offer helpful advice.
Whenever possible, continue to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy. This will help you maintain a sense of self and personal satisfaction as you navigate the many responsibilities of caregiving. You should also nurture your own physical and emotional well-being through self-care, good nutrition, and regular social interaction. You won’t do yourself or the person you’re caring for any favors by neglecting your own needs.
4. Keep Your Loved One Healthy and Happy
It isn’t unusual for individuals to experience declining physical and mental health as they age. Here are some things you can do to keep your senior as healthy and happy as possible:
- Prepare nutritious foods that are easy for them to digest, such as soups, cooked vegetables, cooked whole grain cereals, and fruit.
- Help them stay hydrated throughout the day by regularly offering water, bone broth, and electrolyte drinks as needed.
- Encourage them to take walks with you around the neighborhood or down the hallway, depending on their physical abilities.
- Maintain a regular bedtime schedule to regulate their circadian rhythm and encourage high-quality sleep.
- Enable them to get regular social interaction with their peers by taking them to local senior activities such as bingo or senior paint night.
Your aging loved one should also visit the doctor at least once per year for a checkup. Such checkups are essential for maintaining senior health and diagnosing illnesses or diseases early. The doctor may also review their medication needs, order specific tests, and provide nutrition recommendations.
Caregiving isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding for both you and the person you’re caring for. These tips can help you overcome difficulties and provide quality care without neglecting your own physical and mental health needs.