Making Time for Yourself: Tips for Family Caregivers
Caregivers are never short on giving of themselves. Sandwiched between trying to balance family life with children who haven’t yet left the nest and taking care of parents wholly dependent on them, caregivers have quite a lot to manage.
Here are a few tips family caregivers can use to improve their relationship with their aging loved one:
Listening Tips for Caregivers
Because the daily demands caregivers face are many, it’s sometimes all too easy to lose sight of what really matters: your relationship with your aging loved one. An important part of safeguarding that relationship? Listening.
1. Stop What You’re Doing
When you’re doing dishes, folding laundry, or preparing a meal, your instinct may be to complete the task at hand and move on to the next. This can have an unfortunate impact on communication with an aging loved one who may be trying to talk to you during this time. While caregivers may take pride in masterful multitasking abilities, the fact is that attempting to do several things at once can interfere with the brain’s ability to focus. The simplest way to make sure that you’re listening? Eliminate distractions and focus entirely on the conversation.
By stopping what you’re doing and giving people your undivided attention, you increase the likelihood that you’ll actually hear what they’re saying, process that information adequately, and respond in the most satisfying way.
2. Look and Listen
For aging adults who suffer from cognitive decline and difficulty with verbal communication, listening involves more than hearing. Maintaining eye contact can help you pick up on subtle clues and body language which may give you a better understanding of your loved one’s preferences and point of view.
3. Ask Questions
Asking questions serves two purposes. For starters, it helps you understand and confirm your aging loved one’s intentions. But it also does something equally -- if not more -- important: It shows you are interested in what they are saying and you care enough to give it more thought.
4. Take a Time Out
When you’re busy or overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to take a seemingly mild comment at face value and move on. Conversely, it’s also possible to react rashly to something innocuous. Give yourself a minute to truly digest what your loved one is saying before responding.
Also, keep in mind that just as your aging loved one gives off nonverbal cues, so do you. Pay attention to your own body language to make sure you’re not unintentionally sending your aging loved one a message of frustration or boredom.
Ultimately, open lines of communication are essential to positive, mutually beneficial relationships between caregivers and care receivers. Good listening skills help build trust, resolve conflict, and assist in managing the many aspects of your loved one’s care.. This month, why not try making a commitment to spending less time simply hearing and more time actively listening?
Resources Tips for Caregivers
There will be 98 million people age 65 and older in the U.S. by the year 2060 -- more than twice as many as in the year 2014, according to the Administration for Community Living. Even more eye-opening? The Pew Research Center reports that in the years between 2010 and 2030, an average of 10,000 people will turn 65 in this country every day. Given these skyrocketing demographics, it’s hardly a surprise that many organizations exist to serve this vital segment of the population. Let’s highlight four resources for aging loved ones and the people who care for them, along with other places to look for identifying programs and services in your area.
1. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (N4A)
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging exists to help seniors “live with dignity and choices in their homes and communities for as long as possible” through advocacy, caregiver support, and more. Not sure where to find an organization near you? Use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s handy Eldercare Locator.
2. The American Association of Retired People (AARP)
Membership in the AARP grants seniors access to numerous deals and discounts, but the services the organization provides go far beyond the financial. This nonprofit, nonpartisan group helps people “navigate ageless realities -- financial well-being, health, how to contribute to society and local communities, and how to fully enjoy life.” Wondering how to take advantage of all that the AARP offers? Find a chapter in your state or city.
3. The Alzheimer’s Association
Alzheimer’s disease is the country’s sixth-leading cause of death, and roughly 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease in 2016. These numbers are expected to escalate to 13.8 million by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association provides critical help for millions of Americans, their family members, friends and caregivers. In addition to offering education and outreach at the global, national and local levels, the Alzheimer’s Association also raises funds for research and awareness. Click here to find an Alzheimer’s Association chapter near you or use the Alzheimer’sNavigator to design a free, personalized action plan.
4. Elder Helpers
Elder Helpers connects seniors with a database of more than 30,000 active volunteers who are at the ready to pitch in and help. Just fill out a quick form, and learn about volunteers in your area offering assistance with everything from light housework to personal care.
One last thing to keep in mind? Resources for aging loved ones are also available to at the local level. Check in with nearby churches, senior and community centers, senior living communities, fitness centers, and healthcare providers to learn more about programs, events and services in your area. Professionals, such as eldercare attorneys, financial planners, and even realtors, also offer senior-specific counsel aimed at improving the quality of life for older adults.
Balance Tips for Caregivers
With careers also hanging in that balance, how is it possible to stay above it all? Statistics show that 70 percent of caregivers invariably develop “burnout” that comes with the role.
This is often labeled as role fatigue. However, you don’t have to fall prey to this statistic. With some planning and organization you can shift your current lifestyle and rise above it all. Here’s how:
1. Delegate Tasks
Over 32 percent of family caregivers spend more than 30 hours per week on care-giving tasks. This is just short of a regular nine-to-five work week. Delegating some of these duties is necessary to fight exhaustion. Allow family members, reliable friends or senior care aides to help perform daily tasks involving nutrition, medication scheduling and housekeeping. Here are some helpful ways to delegate:
- If your loved-one is still at home, ask another relative to take him/her home for an evening, a weekend or even a week.
- Have friends come by and sit with your loved-one so you can go have some “me” time to do something that you enjoy or even run errands without distraction.
- Enroll your loved-one in an Adult Day Program for some relief during the day.
- Explore a “60-Day Trial Stay or Respite Stay” at an assisted living community for a break of a few days or more.
2. Manage Your Finances
Seventy-seven percent of family caregivers are worried about finances when assisting a parent. Many caregivers handle out-of-pocket expenses and feel the financial crunch later on. Take advantage of a number of free and low cost resources available. You’ll receive financial tips, senior health counseling, as well as general money management advice at local agencies and on websites. Also, if you’re paying for more than half the cost of senior care you might be able to receive tax return benefits; speak to a financial advisor to learn more.
3. Utilize Well-being Techniques
Over half of caregivers have trouble falling asleep due to stress. Also, the majority of caregivers suffer from their own health issues. Developing a routine for going to bed and making use of common relaxation techniques will go a long way in reducing many health complications, including depression. Scientific studies show the healing benefits of aromatherapy, music therapy, massage therapy and outdoor exercise (gardening or daily walks) in promoting higher states of well-being. Take advantage of these options as a way to release stress and anxiety.
4. Get Assistance with Alzheimer’s Care
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is especially challenging, and not as uncommon as many might think. More than 25,000 families are receiving free “stage-appropriate” help from local organizations for this type of challenge. Assisted living facilities also help in providing specialized care services.
5. Join a Caregiver Support Group
Many caregiver support groups are not as “awkward” as you might think. Assisted living communities, libraries, and seniors centers often offer regular caregiver education and support through informal lectures, luncheons, and more. These groups provide valuable free resources and referrals for all aspects of caregiving. Caregivers can also find support through online chat groups, which have experts on hand to empower those in caregiver roles. Several organizations offer a wealth of online resources to cover important caregiver issues.
6. Let Go
A caregiver’s role is to provide support, not control. This means letting go of the desire to take charge of the life of your loved one, and instead, encouraging mobility and daily self-care while you manage the home and build upon the relationship. This also means letting go of guilty sentiments and recognizing that it’s okay to miss spending more time with your family or feel a need to be present all the time; these are normal emotions! Release them and refresh your perspective, knowing that you make a positive difference in your parents’ lives and that’s enough.
Download this helpful ebook "The Essential Caregiver's Guide" for more tips on how you can find a balancing system that works for you!
About Chelsea Sayegh
I started working as a Marketing Coordinator for United Methodist Homes in October of 2016. I work on public relations, website management and community planning for their award winning independent and assisted living communities. As a graduate of Ursinus College with a degree in Media and Communications and a passion for serving nonprofits, United Methodist Homes has become my home away from home. I spend my days working in a community filled with smiling faces, helpful hands and wonderful residents. I have a passion for assisting seniors and take great pride in being able to promote a company with such a positive mission and values. As an individual committed to learning and growing, I have jumped right into this exciting career!