Coping as a Caregiver

Coping as a Caregiver

Caregiving can be an all-consuming, and occasionally a thankless task.  Those for whom you care are inherently net takers, though not usually intentionally selfish.  In the end, however, the caregiver gives more and gets less.  In many cases that makes the caregiver attempt to provide more than the capacity he or she may have physically or emotionally.

Capacity Match.  While it may seem obvious that one cannot give more than one has, many caregivers do not acknowledge personal limitations and attempt, not always successfully, to exceed that capacity.  Sometimes that insistence on going it alone with unrealistic goals ends in a poor experience for the caregiver and the cared-for alike.  Acknowledging capacity limitations and planning around them will create a calmer situation for all concerned.

Illusion of Control.  Caregivers sometimes start their journey believing they are in control of the situation.  Soon reality checks in.  Caregivers take pride in believing they can make things happen but soon learn that they control less than they first thought.  Understanding the limits of what the caregiver controls is an essential coping skill.

Expectations of Others.  Once capacity and control limitations are acknowledged, caregivers are free to recalibrate expectations about responsibilities and outcomes.  The problem can arise when non-contributing family members do not acknowledge the caregiver’s limitations and criticize the performance.  Understanding and defending against unrealistic expectations of family members is another essential coping skill necessary for the committed caregiver.

Establishing Boundaries.  When caregivers attempt to accomplish any or all of the above to retain control and sanity, there will be pushback and occasionally hostility.  This, however, is an acceptable price to pay for establishing personal boundaries rather than becoming a “prisoner of the impossible.”  Despite the anxiety, by firmly defending personal boundaries, the caregiver can establish an important coping mechanism.

Getting Help.  While these ideas may help a caregiver to keep composure and mental health in dealing with the pressures of giving care to a loved one, sometimes the most straight-forward answer is to simply ask for help.  Fortunately, professional home care is readily available.  Whether respite care for a few hours or days or regularly scheduled help, it can stretch the primary caregiver’s abilities much further than if he or she attempts to go it alone.  It is important to acknowledge the importance of a pressure valve.

Help notwithstanding, the coping strategies described above cannot be turned on and off.   They must be practiced and sustained.  The caregiver can expect blowback and little appreciation, but must remain resolute.  It is not easy, but it is important.

A Surprising Key to Successful Aging: A Dog

A Surprising Key to Successful Aging: A Dog

When you consider the challenges of growing older, a variety of unhappy situations can come to mind.  Loneliness as we have less exposure to family and friends is one.  Less activity may lead to feeling less self-worth.  A life of responsibility becoming one of “freedom” turns out not to be the panacea that it sounded like during the years that life felt hectic.  Aging sometimes isn’t all that fun.

Relief from these and other deficits of aging can be resolved fairly simply in the form of a dog. Cat lovers will forgive this, but dogs more frequently respond when they are spoken to.  Cats, on the other hand, sometimes fit better in your lap – if they are in the mood.  (Lizards and hamsters are not part of this analysis.)

Responsibility for a pet refocuses and replaces many of the deficits created by aging.  While not great conversationalists, dogs are great listeners.  Caring for them provides a sense of purpose and appreciation is expressed unabashedly. Simply having another living thing that relies on us can make us feel an increased sense of purpose and responsibility.

The simple act of walking with your dog will reduce stress and anxiety.  While it might be merely a distraction, this process has the effect of centering attention around life’s uncomplicated pleasures.  Animals keep us aware of immediate needs and wants, thereby reducing the opportunity to feel depressed.

The presence of an animal in an elder household has been scientifically proven to encourage positive thinking and elevate the speed of recovery when the patient is sick.  The almost universal adoption of a pet therapy program in hospitals is testimony to that thesis.  Social support in the form of four legs and an active tail is a proven antidote to anxiety and loneliness.

Certain breeds of dogs are more in tune with a senior lifestyle.  There are many adoption programs that can match a senior’s personality and environment with the perfect pet.

It has been said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”