Eldercare is frequently provided by relatives or friends of older people. For many caregivers, the role snuck up on them gradually. It happened as their friend or relative’s health or mobility declined, and they took on more and more caring duties. Yet for some caregivers, the role of carer starts suddenly, generally after a crisis. Therefore, caring duties tend to sneak up on people, or are a more direct result of a crisis.
Whether caring for a much-loved elderly person has slowly happened over the space of a few months, or happened overnight because of a health scare these few tips can help you adjust. After all, caregiving is often time-consuming as well as tiring for new carers.
The sneak up role
Sometimes giving eldercare starts off by you doing a few favors, and ends with full-blown caring duties. Often calling round to a relative or neighbor to assist with chores and having a chat over a coffee can turn into visiting and assisting them whenever you have a spare hour or two. Such unintended roles may only be temporary or could carry on for years until the elderly person passes away, or has to go into a care home.
As the amount of care given increases gradually it can take a few weeks or months to realize that you have become the main caregiver. With the sneak up it tends to take time to notice your changing role, yet once you know that you are a carer assistant have a look around to see who else can care for that person. A problem for caregivers is that they frequently focus on the needs of whoever they care for without thinking about their own health or life balance.
Carry on caring, but give yourself a break, and have someone else do the caring even if it is for just one day a week. It will allow you to relax, if only for a short while.
While some elderly people gradually decline in health, others will have a sudden, unexpected health scare that transforms their care needs immediately. Perhaps their health can nosedive after surgery, as surgery holds greater risks for older people. Such operations may not change the lives of the elderly yet it may increase the amount of caregiving provided by their family.
Yet for many families, a crisis will come as a shock. Their mom or dad will seem to be healthy and then suddenly have a stroke or a heart attack. The family’s first concern is that the loved one survives. It may only be when they come out of the hospital that attention turns to their care needs. A crisis means that families have to switch from normal living to providing fully-fledged care. You go from visiting a couple of times a week to making sure that all care needs are met on a daily basis.
Untold numbers of families go through such a crisis every year. A simple fall or car accident just as much as a medical emergency can mean a relative needs constant care and their independence has ended. Caring for them in their home can keep them happier than placing them in a care home yet means you have to care for them regularly.
Many people will care for family without any hesitation and do not always stop to think about the impact it will have on themselves, yet they should do it carefully.
Getting started in the caregiver mode
The sneak up can give you and your family more time to adjust to new caregiving roles, while a crisis puts you all into the role immediately. Yet the sneak up can take place so slowly you might notice the new role for a while.
You will need to be prepared for caregiving to make sure caring for a loved one does not have a detrimental impact on the whole family. Boundaries need to be set, caregiving needs to be flexible, and it is worth researching how health conditions could change.
Set Boundaries for caring
Many new carers do not take the time to set boundaries and face burnout as a result. You must set out what you can and cannot do whilst caring. If possible take a day off, perhaps your spouse or child can provide care one day a week. Or you could set time aside from caring to allow you to relax and rest. Often carers have to keep working to pay the bills then spend much of their spare time caring. That is frequently the prime reason for burnout.
When adults have to care for elderly parents they do not always set boundaries and think they can say no to their parents. Yet saying no can be difficult than you could possibly imagine. You should tell your relative that you cannot afford to give up work and that you will need time to relax and sleep.
To work though, the boundaries need to be realistic, so that care needs are met without damaging your own health. You still need time to work, time with your spouse and children, and time to relax. Some carers say they cannot visit or take phone calls at certain times to make sure they get time for themselves. Sometimes having a larger family all living near to the relative being cared for can be beneficial. Siblings can take it in turns to care for Mom or Dad. When that is not the situation you will still need to prevent burnout. If there is a care team in place, arrange for days off and possibly vacations so that you can recharge your batteries and do not come to resent the person you are caring for. When there are people available to help make sure you ask for it.
Set firm boundaries to protect yourself and stick to these as much as possible. However, it may be worth reviewing those boundaries especially when care needs change. Make use of offers of help from other family members and keep any care teams informed and involved.