When Caregiving Overwhelms

Link to article in STAR News

Guest column by: Deb Taylor

SCSinstituteoptionsWhen Deborah’s father turned 84, he needed help remaining independent at home. So Deb assisted with housework and cleaning; she raked leaves and shoveled snow, too. When he had a doctor appointment, Deb usually drove him. In time Deb grew weary because she also had a full-time job and a family. “At one point, Dad was occupying all of my time, taking all of my energy, and I just couldn’t do it. It was impossible for me to caretake Dad and juggle the rest of my responsibilities,” Deb said.

Sylvia grew weary caregiving her husband. And, because he could not be left alone, she spent long, isolating days at home, unable to get out much for socialization to refresh her own state of mind. “Sometimes I’m just worn out,” Sylvia admitted.

John is a caregiver for his mother who has dementia and a faces a variety of other medical challenges. John’s own health became compromised when he grew exhausted, but he persevered because he felt there were no other options.

Many thousands of Minnesotans are the primary caregiver of an older adult. And most are reluctant to acknowledge the stress they feel as they battle fatigue, trouble sleeping, depression, and stress-related weight gain or loss.

What to do? Deb, Sylvia and John were able to receive helpful support from Senior Community Services. The support included home maintenance help, fellowship at senior centers, care coordination support from experienced social workers, and help managing ongoing caregiving tasks with other family members and friends.

“Senior Community Services’ CareNextion.org website became crucial for us,” Deb explained. “We got our extended family signed up on the care team and created a calendar of tasks. Everyone helped out, which eased the burden on me.”

With CareNextion, Deb could update everyone at once, averting the time-sapping chore of contacting relatives individually by phone or email. “It relieved me from caregiving our entire multigenerational family, with members in Japan, Chicago and Arkansas. CareNextion was the one place they could go to see what’s going on with Dad,” she said.

“It was so hard before, and it became so easy after we discovered CareNextion.”

Sylvia found great value in the support groups at her local senior center. “I was able to talk with other caregivers, which helped me know I was not alone. And my husband, Al, came along, too, enjoying the activities.”

John and his mother are grateful for the tremendous support from the Senior Outreach and Caregiver Services program.
“A staff member visited us and she knew more than any other person we’d met. She helped us find the best care for Mom. I couldn’t recommend Senior Community Services any more highly because of what they’ve given us. It eased a huge burden for me,” John said.

Caregivers must take care of themselves to avoid caregiver fatigue or burnout. Be sure to make time for yourself; a walk or time spent reading can help restore you. Consider an adult day program for your older loved one. These programs offer a place for seniors to socialize and get medical care and other services. And while they’re away, it gives you time to rest or run errands. Do a reality check of your situation and be prepared to seek out supportive services that can help ease the caregiving burden.

(Editor’s note: Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services, www.seniorcommunity.org, and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services.)