In 2018, approximately one in four Canadians aged 15 and older were caregivers. They provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or problems related to aging, according to Statistics Canada. That’s 7.8 million people functioning as caregivers in this country, most of whom are also juggling jobs and caring for families of their own.
There’s a smaller pool of potential caregivers than in years past, because baby boomers had fewer children than their predecessors. Some find themselves in the position of caring for not only an ill spouse, but their own parents and even their in-laws too.
Caregiving is emotionally and physically taxing. While it can certainly offer many emotional benefits, many struggle with feeling pressed for time, dealing with financial challenges and trying to achieve work-life balance. They can also create even more stress for themselves in the form of caregiver guilt.
It can be helpful to dispel some of the most common myths surrounding caregiver guilt. Do any of these sound like you?
1. I need to do this perfectly.
There is a definite learning curve to caregiving. Taking on the role of nurse, care manager or senior care provider can happen gradually over time or quite suddenly. It’s only natural to doubt your ability. You already have a job, other family responsibilities and perhaps volunteer work to attend to. This isn’t the time to get caught up chasing perfection. Just do the best you can.
2. I must always stay positive and have only positive thoughts about providing care.
Certain situations are very challenging. If your loved one has dementia, for example, it can be hard to stay lighthearted and loving 24/7 when they can’t remember your name or are behaving aggressively. Many personal, sensitive issues can come up: incontinence is one such example. It is completely normal to feel a wide range of emotions—many of them negative. Accept whatever feelings you’re experiencing without judgment and consider speaking to a therapist.
3. I shouldn’t talk about what I am going through.
Friends and family are likely to ask about your loved one’s condition often, yet rarely ask how you’ve been doing. While you don’t have to unburden yourself to everyone, finding a confidant you can be honest with can be a lifesaver during this difficult time. You might also consider trying a support group. It can sometimes be easier to speak more freely with strangers than family and friends, and you can often learn a lot from others’ experiences.
4. I shouldn’t share this with my employer.
Many remain quiet about their situation at work. Try to be open about your caregiving role; you might discover your company offers caregiver support resources or you might be able to arrange flex time or take family leave. It’s better that your employer knows the reasons behind any absences or lateness. If you are occasionally preoccupied, they may be more understanding if they knew the reason why.
5. My loved one must always come first. My needs need to take a back seat for now.
When your loved one’s needs take precedence, it can feel like an emergency. Suddenly everything in your own life feels frivolous. But many health challenges are enduring, not easily or quickly solved, and over time caregiving takes a massive toll. You can’t afford to ignore your own health, wellness and need for rest. This isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
6. I don’t have the right attitude or temperament for this. Other caregivers are doing this so much better.
They may be thinking the same thing about you! Resist the urge to compare yourself to others; you will only end up feeling feel worse about yourself and questioning the very capable job you have been doing. Instead, remember that everyone is in a difficult situation and is doing their best. Most caregivers are overtired, worried and frazzled but are trying to appear that they have it all together.
7. I need to do this all by myself. It’s my responsibility.
A common sentiment among caregivers is, “Mom cared for me when I was little. Now it’s my turn.” Some are actually told, “I don’t want a stranger in the house. I feel more comfortable with you.” Others simply feel this is a standard they must uphold. But this thinking only stops caregivers from getting the help they need and deserve.
Rather than tackling caregiving alone, take advantage of some of the wonderful resources available. They can improve quality of life, both for your loved one and yourself.
Support groups are safe spaces where you can be completely open about your experience, a much healthier approach than bottling up your concerns, fears and resentments. Some are for specific groups, i.e., those whose loved one has dementia. You may also learn some useful caregiving tips. Groups are available in person and online.
Therapy sessions with a counselor who is familiar with caregiving issues can work wonders. They can help you work through your feelings, help you develop coping tools and learn how to establish priorities—valuable tools you’ll be able use for the rest of your life.
An aging life care professional
Also known as geriatric care managers, they conduct assessments and help families develop and implement a care plan for older adults with health challenges. They can help you find resources so you no longer have to do everything yourself. They can also facilitate family meetings, making sure the care load is shared fairly and everyone is on the same page.
It can be very difficult for a loved one to accept care from a professional. Most soon realize, however, that having difficult or intimate tasks performed by someone who is trained to care for seniors can actually bring a greater sense of independence. Professional caregivers help with a number of daily personal care tasks, such as bathing, grooming and incontinence care. Some also provide housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation. Caregivers can be hired for a few hours every week, for a respite period or full time.
Guilt may go both ways
This is just as difficult for your loved one. They too may be feeling guilt. Brain imaging has shown that the part of the brain associated with stress becomes more active when we feel like we are imposing on someone. If your loved one seems snappish, depressed or resentful, they may well be struggling with a feeling of indebtedness. It’s another reason why engaging outside help, such as in-home care, creates a much better emotional climate and a more normal relationship among the generations.
For more information on in-home care and assisted living services, visit Right at Home Georgian Triangle or call 705-293-5500.