Somehow or other you need to find ways to give proper attention to your own needs. As a care-giver it’s critical that you take good care of yourself – even while you’re taking care of your aging loved one. Finding that balance can be a challenge, but now is the time to establish some healthy goals and habits. If you’re already nearing the point of burnout, it’s time to alter course. Here are a few survival steps that will help you make the necessary changes.
- Don’t go it alone. The task of caring for an aging loved one can have an isolating effect on the caregiver. Don’t allow yourself to be cut off from friends, neighbors or siblings who understand what you’re facing. Look for support from people who care about you, who love and encourage you, and who model Christian charity in their own lives. Maintain and nurture good friendships. Admit that there are limits to what one person can do and then seek some outside help.
- Ask for what you need. Don’t be shy about requesting and accepting help from other people. You’re going to need it. As a matter of fact, you may have to get aggressive about digging for the help you need. Whatever it takes, be persistent and don’t give up. One contact will lead to another. If you network the resources, you will uncover more and more organizations, government agencies and private individuals who are on your side, who understand, and who will go to bat for you.
- Expect help from your family. Your family can be an important source of emotional support, but learn what is reasonable to expect. Keep communication lines wide open. Hold family meetings to talk about the job ahead of you. Ask your family to hold you accountable to get enough sleep, eat healthfully, and take time for exercise. Tell them how much you appreciate their help. If you have children, find creative ways to involve them and your aging parent in one another’s lives. Promote unity between the generations and reinforce the feeling of family, legacy and heritage in your household.
- Join a support group. Support groups can help you a) set appropriate limits in how you care for your elderly loved one, b) consider the impact of taking on continuing care-giving responsibilities, and c) make difficult decisions regarding the care of your aging parent. For information about support groups in your area see the website of Caregiver Action Network (CAN),a national, non-profit organization for caregivers. You might also want to contact your local Area Agency on Aging to identify other support services and programs close to home.
- Identify your strengths. Instead of focusing on those aspects of the task that you find daunting or overwhelming, build on your natural strengths and abilities so as to meet the challenge of care-giving in the most effective way. For example, if you’re healthy and fit but not particularly good at paperwork, concentrate on meeting your elder’s physical needs and delegate the administration of the estate to a financially astute sibling or friend.
- Get respite. Never feel guilty about getting away for a break – perhaps an evening at home without interruption or a drive to a different environment. Taking some time off for yourself is not a sign of weakness and will help you more than you may realize. To do this, you may need to hire a companion to watch your elder or ask a sibling or relative to help out while you are gone. You might also enroll your loved one in an adult day-care program. Call the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging for referrals or information to help you.
- Think realistically. Let go of false expectations and learn to think realistically and biblically. Don’t expect circumstances in your life or in that of your aging loved one to stay the same as they were in the past. Change is inevitable, but it is also an opportunity to love and serve God in new ways.
- Energize yourself. Find out what makes you relish life and do those things regularly and consistently. Plug into resources that stimulate and regenerate your soul and body. Do you enjoy reading on the porch? Rearranging the living room furniture? A game of golf? Going to a symphony? As a caregiver, you must budget and plan for some of these activities.
- Reaffirm your faith and calling. God has appointed a time and place for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). If you believe He has given you the assignment of caring for your aging parent, then reassert your confidence in His calling when discouragement, self-pity and fatigue tempt you to give up. The Lord will help you shoulder the load; remember the words of Philippians 1:6: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
If you need further help working through these ideas and applying them to your situation, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.
Balancing Service and Sacrifice With Time for Self: Gary Thomas discusses the elements of a balanced life, especially the need for self-care.
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Caring for Ill or Aging Parents