Get Family Involved in Caregiving
Put together a caregiving team consisting of family and friends and spread out the responsibilities, so no one feels overwhelmed.
The number of people taking care of older adults has skyrocketed to over 44M according to a study from the National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP. (Caregiver.org n.d.). The majority of caregivers are married women in their mid-forties who work outside the home and spend twenty hours or more per week taking care of an elderly parent. Juggling the responsibilities of taking care of a parent while dealing with the demands of their own family and job at the same time can put these caregivers at risk for burnout.
Whether you’ve volunteered to be the primary caregiver or fell into the job because you live closest, caring for your elderly parent can be rewarding. It’s one way of giving back for the sacrifices they made while you were growing up. Too often, though, when the burden of care falls on one person, problems can arise. Doing housework, cooking meals, and running errands for two households can put enormous stress on the caregiver.
The Toll of Caregiving Alone
Providing constant care for someone who can no longer perform their daily activities without help can take a physical, mental, and emotional toll on the caregiver. Because they’re spending so much time and energy on caring for their loved one, the caregiver may neglect their own health.
The physical stress of lifting or supporting an elderly parent who needs help bathing or getting out of bed can put the caregiver at risk for arthritis or back injuries. The caregiver may be too tired to exercise or put off making doctor’s appointments for themselves. If the parent is confrontational or angry, the stress to the caregiver can show up as high blood pressure, heart disease, or high cholesterol. The lack of focus on their health makes the caregiver susceptible to issues ranging from heart disease to diabetes, and even cancer. (caregiver.org n.d.)
When a caregiver is in a state of exhaustion, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, it’s called caregiver burnout, and both the parent and the caregiver suffer. Here are some warning signs of caregiver stress which if not addressed can lead to burnout (helpguide.org n.d.):
- Having difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Feeling tired, irritable, or resentful
- Overeating, drinking more or smoking more
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Being susceptible to any illness going around such as colds or flu
- Feeling more and more angry or irritable towards the person you’re caring for
- Crying or feeling helpless
One of the best ways to avoid caregiver burnout and stay healthy is to get help so that you can take breaks on a regular basis. Creating a caregiving team by enlisting the help of other family members will give you the time and space for self-care. (Yu. n.d.)
Create Your Caregiving Team
Bringing other family members into the caregiving team will give more people visibility into Mom or Dad’s health condition and reduce the burden of you being the only one who is fully informed about their health.
Creating a caregiving team needs to be handled with care. Your spouse and younger children may feel neglected or resentful of the time you’re spending with your parent and may be reluctant to give up their own time as well. Teenage children will be focused on school work, extra-curricular activities and their own social lives and may feel pressured to donate their time.
By carefully setting boundaries and responsibilities, creating a caregiving team can improve the quality of life for everyone involved. You can get relief from being the only caregiver. Children of all ages can be enriched by spending time with their grandparents, whether that’s learning how to cook a secret family recipe, or getting the benefit of the love and support a grandparent provides. Your parent can help your children better understand you by sharing stories of your experiences growing up. They can fill in the gaps in the family history and share personal experiences of world events that happened before your children were born. (Jacobs, n.d.)
To set up a caregiving team and enlist the help of family members, hold a family meeting. Anyone you want to commit to being part of the caregiving team should be in attendance. Consider including siblings, your children, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even close friends who are considered ‘family.’ You can facilitate the meeting yourself or ask someone else such as a pastor or friend to run the meeting. Having a third party can keep the family from falling into familiar traps of bad behavior such as blaming others or trying to sabotage the process. If some family members are too far away to attend in person, they may be able to participate via conference.
Preparation Always Helps the Cause
Prepare before the meeting by writing down the care-taking needs of your parent. Then discuss the support role each person can perform to meet those needs. Give everyone a chance to voice their opinions and concerns. They may have reasons why they can’t perform certain tasks due to their own family or job responsibilities. When creating the task list, make them specific and straightforward. Examples are:
- Sit with your elderly parent while you take time for yourself
- Run errands such as grocery shopping or picking up prescriptions
- Prepare lunch or snacks for the week in advance
- Take your parent shopping or to a doctor’s appointment
- Bring Mom or Dad to their house for a weekend or week so that you and your spouse can take a vacation
When creating tasks for grandkids remember to keep them age appropriate and balanced with their normal activities involving school and friends. Even the younger grandkids can be involved – assign them to call Grandma or Granddad once a week.
Long distance family members can be included on the caregiving team. They can help with things like bill paying, setting up appointments and providing emotional support with phone calls. They can invite your parent to visit at their home or plan to come to your location periodically. (nih.gov n.d.)
After you reach a consensus on tasks and responsibilities, set up a schedule of tasks to be done on a daily or weekly basis. It’s helpful to write down any agreements made during the meeting and share with the other family members. Provide ongoing updates and open communication with the caregiving team using the tools available at HowToCare.org.
- Helpguide.org (n.d.) Caregiver Stress and Burnout Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiver-stress-and-burnout.htm
- Winnie Yu (n.d.) How to Assemble a Caregiving Team retrieved from https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/assemble-caregiving-team/
- Barry J. Jacobs (n.d.) How Caring for Parents Affect your Children Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-2014/caregiving-children-grandparents-jacobs.html
- Caregiver.org (n.d.) Holding a Family Meeting Retrieved from https://www.caregiver.org/holding-family-meeting
- NIH.gov (n.d.) Getting Started with Long Distance Caregiving Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-started-long-distance-caregiving