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February 23, 2012

Caring for the Caregivers

My question was simple and direct: “What are you doing to take care of yourself?”  My client Debbie, the family caregiver I was assisting, reacted as if I’d begun speaking in some Martian dialect.

We’d just discussed how she had spent the better part of three weeks tending to her mother—a formerly mobile senior who had been sidelined by a stroke, and who, on her best days was demanding and quick to criticize. Debbie had taken time off from work, had allowed her own household to fall into disarray, and had cancelled regular social engagements in order to care for her mother. Now, in spite of Mom’s protestations, Debbie was looking for a part time in-home caregiver, with only one goal in mind.  “I just want to sleep,” she said. “If I could get six hours of uninterrupted sleep, I’d be fine.”

Unfortunately, I knew Debbie would soon need more than sleep. She would need respite care, to give herself a break more often. She and her mother were entering a new phase of their relationship, one that would likely prove challenging to both of them.  Debbie needed help, but she also needed emotional reinforcement. I suggested a caregiver support group; a chance to connect with other sons and daughters who are going through the same things she is facing.  “I don’t have time for that now,” she said. “Maybe later. Maybe when Mom’s a little better…”  I suggested a support group  in Debbie’s community as well as one of online forums. “After you get some rest, consider getting some support for yourself. Even if you don’t participate, you’ll connect with  some kindred spirits,” I said.

I wanted to let Debbie know what years of experience working with hundreds of families has shown me—that her mother would likely stabilize at a “new normal;” that she would be redefining the mother-daughter relationship on a monthly or even weekly basis; that she would have moments of tearful frustration and humbling moments filled with love and gratitude.  Mostly, I wanted to tell Debbie that she needs to have lunch and laugh with friends, and she needs to share the caregiving experience with others, if only to realize that she isn’t alone.

I’ll be checking in on Debbie soon, and I plan to offer more information about caregiver support groups. Everyone I know who has gifted themselves with a face-to-face or online support group has benefited from the camaraderie and shared knowledge. The support makes them stronger.

So tell me, if you’re a caregiver, what are you doing to take care of yourself? There are plenty of people like Debbie who need to know.

And if you need support, call our Senior Care Advisors at 855-772-2730.


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