Caring for an aging relative is a major stressor in the lives of many individuals and it’s only natural to feel guilt at times. Caring for an elderly relative while attempting to keep up with their own responsibilities can be difficult. Caregivers need to address any guilt and resentments they may have before they become an issue threatening relationships as well as both their physical and emotional health.
Adult children who find themselves in the role of caregiver also find they are plagued with guilt – or a perceived failure – in not being able to provide all that their aging relatives need. The guilt can also come from the caregiver feeling he or she isn’t spending enough time at home or isn’t concentrating enough at work. The guilt is exacerbated when the caregiver finds they need to take time off from work to deal with health or medical issues their aging relatives are facing. Guilt is almost unavoidable and is also detrimental to your health and the way you interact with your aging loved ones.
The guilt caregivers feel can arise from feelings of anger, sadness, frustration or resentment toward the relatives they’re caring for. The caregiver who is typically thrust into this role finds they have unrealistic goals and expectations when it comes to how they feel the relationship and role of caregiver should be versus what it truly is. In some cases, caregivers also find themselves back in the middle of sibling rivalries which can bring up unresolved family issues. Still other caregivers find the guilt arises because they worry that if they’d paid attention to their aging parents sooner they wouldn’t be in the situation they are now.
No matter the reason for the guilt, it is a very real, and damaging, emotion that strikes nearly every caregiver. When wracked with guilt, the caregiver may find themselves frozen in place, unable to make crucial decisions and second guessing their every thought when it comes to their aging relative.
Here are five steps to deal with and overcome the guilt and stress that comes from being a caregiver:
- To address the feelings, the caregiver needs to first acknowledge that they are actually feeling guilt. This is not easy for many people to even voice, but once you acknowledge it, you can begin to look at your feelings and your role as caregiver in a different light. In some cases the caregiver feels guilt at not doing enough or they get angry at their siblings for not helping enough and then feel guilty over that emotion. It’s a potentially vicious circle with no resolve unless you deal with it head on.
- Even when you’re a caregiver you need to understand that you have to take care of yourself and understand your own needs and wants. You are as important as the individual for whom you are caring and that needs to be front of mind, a viewpoint that leads to caregiver guilt.
- Acknowledge that you’re going to have good days in your role as caregiver and that you’re going to have days when you feel nothing but despair. You may also feel that no matter what you do for your relatives, it simply isn’t enough. Understand that just as you’re struggling, your relatives are also dealing with a lot of emotional issues at the loss of control they likely feel in their lives.
- Don’t feel bad about asking for help. Do you have siblings that live close that aren’t helping out? Call them and ask them to get involved. Don’t feel bad if you feel you need to hire a caregiver to come to the home on occasion so you can take the occasional day off and recharge your emotional and physical batteries.
- Realize that guilt is an emotion that nearly all caregivers are faced with and the best, and only way, to handle it is to not keep it bottled up inside. If the stress and guilt become too much, don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor and ask for help in coping with the rigors of being a caregiver.
In many cases, you – as the caregiver – are aging yourself and may not have the energy you had in your younger years to take care of both the care giving duties and your home and work obligations. One step toward helping you get away, enjoy a good night’s rest and get some “me” time is to equip your relative’s home with a home medical alert system. This system allows you peace of mind that while you’re away, your loved one is not completely alone and without aid. At the push of a button on the medical alert pendant, he or she will have access to a team of responders who can dispatch medical help or simply call you, friends and neighbors. A few hours for yourself, knowing that your loved one has easy access to medical help, can provide peace of mind and the break you need!