Elder care can be very rewarding and fosters meaningful connections between loved ones in their twilight years. It can create a beautiful space for beloved memories and increase opportunities for bonding with elderly loved ones. However, it also takes hard work and resilience because of the varied and unique challenges each person and situation calls for. Even during normal times, primary caregivers can suffer from physical and emotional burnout and need secondary caregivers, family, friends and professionals to share the load. However, during these extenuating circumstances, the need for more help is growing while the ability to access that help is shrinking.
Every situation is unique, but many families are navigating complex and burdensome decisions. Decisions such as whether to limit exposure via social distancing by letting go of in-home care workers, stopping adult day care visits, or even pulling elders from long term care facilities based on their doctor’s recommendation and community’s risk factor. This loss of essential caregiving services will put even more strain on primary caregivers which is compounded by the lack of support the caregiver can receive from non-professionals such as family and friends. Quarantine is necessary to maintain a healthy environment for the elder, but it also presents laborious challenges.
Self-Care Begins with Self-Compassion
If you are feeling the weight of an increased need for domestic and emotional labor because of increased caregiving duties, know that you are not alone. Many other caregivers are also feeling the same way right now and it is okay to feel frazzled or overwhelmed at times. Focusing on small goals like developing daily plans for your loved one’s medications and physical therapy exercises (as prescribed by their doctor) can help break up what seems like insurmountable tasks into doable portions. Also remember to be kind to yourself and celebrate your little successes, because they are all so important! There is no shame here, even if you are frustrated, tired and stressed- you are doing your best! Check in with yourself with understanding and compassion because in order to take care of others, one must take care of the self. Just like in an airplane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. If that means that you may need to de-clutter your calendar and be honest with your friends, then have those conversations.
Take a mindful moment at the beginning of each week and even each day, and set realistic and flexible goals. Maybe you won’t have time to clean the garage or bake fresh bread, but that is okay! It is important to set achievable goals and be compassionate with yourself if plans go awry. Call loved ones for emotional support as needed and be as patient with yourself as you are with your elderly loved one. You are both doing the best you can during these stressful times. It’s ok that it won’t be perfect.
It is not always possible to take breaks when you are the full-time caregiver of someone with complex and demanding needs. Nonetheless, it is imperative to take space for yourself. Space comes from creating achievable and healthy boundaries. Think about what you can realistically do to take time for yourself.
- Go into another room and do an independent activity
- Put on their favorite entertainment and call a friend
- If they need you in the room, put on headphones to listen to your own entertainment
- Read a book while supervising to give you a mental break
- Put headphones on them so you can have some peace and quiet
- Even taking a few minutes for some deep breathing and quiet meditation can rejuvenate your mindset
Look Out for Joy
It can be very emotionally draining to be the primary caregiver. Your feelings of exhaustion are real and valid. Yet, as in life, joy persists. Happiness is not always measured in buckets, sometimes it is seen in teaspoons. But those spoons are still there if you look for them, or create those moments yourself. If there was ever a time to treat yourself, a global pandemic is it! So, look for opportunities for creating joy for you, and your loved one. Keep it accessible and personal. Find joy for yourself and look for opportunities to experience it together.
- Special breakfast food
- Beloved old film
- Music that reminds you of notable memories
- The changing seasons; birds returning, flowers blooming, a stubborn snowfall
- Scrapbooks of past vacations
- Home videos
- Read-alouds with funny novels or fancy poetry
These are demanding times, but you are strong, courageous and so kind. Honor the stress and the joy. Reminisce on old memories and make new ones. Take care of yourself, and your loved ones.