Caring for the caregiver

Image: Caring for the caregiver

In this session of Caregiver Tip Tuesday we look at ways for caregivers to cope with the responsibility of being caregivers.

Our ever-changing, fast-paced and technologically-advanced world has altered the way we do so many things – including caring for our elderly. Multi-generational families living under one roof are far less common than they used to be. Many older couples have adult children who live in a different city or country. Most women work in jobs outside of the home making it difficult to also assist loved ones in the daytime.

Caregiving is something many people now do from a distance or, among several other daily responsibilities. It can be so overwhelming that it can negatively affect your emotional and physical well-being as well as the care you are able to give to the senior you are 'caring for'.

If you are in this situation, there are several things you can do that may help you cope with this often unexpected role:

1. Communicate – make sure you speak to medical personnel about concerns. Create a support network of family, friends and others that you can talk with about your feelings and needs. Let you employer know your situation as well. There may be available support groups, Employee Assistance Programs or paid family leave options available to you.

2. Educate yourself – knowledge can only empower you. Ask questions so you can understand the situation. Seek out information about your loved one's medical condition and the options available. Computers and the internet has made finding out information far easier than in the past but ensure that the source is reputable before using it or believing it.

3. Ask for and accept help – sharing responsibilities is often difficult but necessary for the caregiver as much as the recipient of care. Accept the help of family and friends. Use available community resources – there may be day programs, respite care options, homemaking and a host of other services available to you.

4. Stress Management – acknowledge your feelings. It is okay to feel overwhelmed, sad and anxious. While you may not be able to change a situation, you can decide how you will react and respond to it. Learn the signs of 'caregiver burnout' and if you think you might be experiencing it or if your health or functioning is being affected, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

5. Life Balance – prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! Organization is the key to feeling a sense of control over your situation. Look after yourself. Eat properly, exercise, sleep and take breaks when needed. It's okay to do things for yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

As difficult as caregiving can be, it can also to be very rewarding. Your ability to deal with the ups and downs of daily life will influence the impact it has on you. Finding the 'silver lining', having realistic goals, sharing special moments and finding enjoyment in simple pleasures will contribute to how a person copes with what can be, one of the more challenging roles their our lives.

Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker, the author of the annual Ontario publication the "Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living &Long-Term Care®" and administrator of the affiliated national website She is a seasoned lecturer and former educator at U of T School of Continuing Studies, sharing her knowledge with professionals, seniors and their families, by giving workshops and lectures at various venues on 'Senior Living Options' and related topics. Esther can be contacted at