Unpaid caregivers, which are typically family but also include friends and neighbors remain an invisible pillar in Canada’s health care system and yet make up over 25% of our population.
Canadian statistics on caregiving paint a very clear picture — “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when you will become a caregiver.” If you are 45 years and older and a woman, it is almost a complete guarantee that you are caring for an aging parent or spouse. Don’t worry men, we won’t let you feel left out! 77% of male caregivers aged 45-64 are.
We know that caregiving can be very rewarding; however, it can also be exhausting and emotionally and physically demanding. When you ask most caregivers how they feel, the answer is, “tired”, “overwhelmed”, “stretched”, “resentful” and “I’m going insane!”.
Your Five Key Strategies to Stay Sane
- Be Informed: The more you can find out about the person’s illness or disease, the better you can care. The more you can find out about what to expect over time, the more informed decisions your family can make for future planning. The more you understand what your role is as a caregiver, the better you can provide the right type of support at the right time. The more information you can gather about how the health care system works or what programs and services are available in the community that support seniors, the better you can build a plan.
- Get Good Support: Whether it’s a walk with a good friend to vent or a caregiver support session, caregivers who feel supported are able to better carers. Don’t expect others to know what type of support or help you need; it’s up to you to take the initiative and ask for what you need. Take some time to write out everything you do as a caregiver and, swallow hard and reach out for help.
- Write It Down: Whether it is the old fashion route of paper or pen or some fancy app on your phone, having one place to track information, observations and collect resources is critical. Whether it is noticing changes in the person you are caring for or writing down questions to ask the specialist, keep it all in one place. It’s also helpful to have a separate binder or notebook that can go with you at all times in your role as a family caregiver. Don’t bring it with you on “date night”!
- Effective Communication: Rushing a conversation, making assumptions about the other person, not being present in dialogue are common culprits in miscommunication and conflict. Yet, as family caregivers, the role of being a care recipient’s voice and key support person is critical. Having the best understanding of what the person you are caring needs, inside knowledge and experience benefits everyone; a family physician, home support staff, other family members, and concerned neighbors.
- Know Your Limits, Care Within It: Care recipients may get into the habit of calling for any little thing, they are in chronic pain or simply because they are lonely. A spouse may make many demands. Being able to set limits and saying NO isn’t always easy; however, it is an important skill to learn. One tip I give caregivers is to be present and compartmentalize. “Work when you work,” “give care when you are caregiving,” and “play when you play.”
A few other gems are:
- The quicker you figure out and accept that one person CANNOT do it alone, the better caregiver you will be.
- I know it sounds like common sense to say, “Find times that give you a break and nourish you as a person.” But when we get entrenched in caregiving and life, we can forget about our own personal needs. If you are caring for someone with complex needs or requires a lot of care, find and use respite.
- Define your limits of what you are prepared and able to do. This will help you see more clearly what is needed and what is realistic for you to provide.
- Keep a good sense of
- On average, it takes family caregivers, 4 years to reach out and ask for help. For goodness sake, don’t be part of those statistics. Ask for the help you need. You will be a better caregiver and the person receiving care will be better cared for.
More more resources and articles on family caregiving, go here.
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Author: Wendy Johnstone, M.A. Gerontology