Caring For The Caregivers
I recently facilitated a Death Literacy session focused on caregiver support. How to support the aging and ill is something I get asked about a lot, as people are never sure where the resources are or how/when to ask for help. Having a plan in place for this is important and falls into the unexpected category I use when discussing getting one’s ducks in a row before they die.
I began with the question, “Who here is a caregiver?” Interestingly enough, not everyone who was a caregiver could identify themselves as one. I believe this is more often the case than we think. There are the obvious caregiver scenarios, where someone is unable to care for themselves due to injury and lack of mobility or physical function. But if we’re caring for a person who is still fairly independent, we tend not to identify ourselves as caregivers. There are also those who support caregivers, and this group, too, requires support.
There are so many iterations of caregiver life. Caring for aging parents is a common one. In this scenario, we may forget that we are aging along with them and may not have the energy or resources we once did when we were younger and possibly caring for children. Or even just caring for ourselves!
There’s caring for a partner who is temporarily ill or who might be slowly losing their independence. In this scenario, it’s a war of attrition, as respite may or may not be on the horizon as we just get on with it, with little thought of how we’re going to handle the new status quo over time.
In these scenarios, these new realities, as with any changes in our lives, being resilient means addressing a few key components.
Support others by supporting yourself
- Before you can support others, you must support yourself. Burning out helps no one.
- Ask yourself if you have the resources to do the task (community, money, health, time, space, energy). Evaluate your resource availability often.
- Know you always have a choice. Use empowering language. Instead of saying “I have to” or “I should”, say “I’m choosing to”.
- Just because you CAN do it alone, doesn’t mean you have to. Outsource what you can. Perfect is the enemy of good, as they say. You are neither indispensable, nor the only one who can do it “right.” Learn to let go. Save your energy for what’s really important.
- Asking for help and accepting help is a gift to the person helping you. Don’t deny them that gift.
Acknowledge change is uncomfortable but inevitable
- Change may be inevitable, but change resistance is also normal, so expect it. Resistance will come from you as well as from the person you are caregiving. Don’t judge the emotions, just accept them. The best next step is asking yourself, “So what am I going to do about it?”
- Resistance can manifest as denial, fear, anger. Allow yourself/others to vent. Be a good listener but set a time limit. Don’t expend all your energy on emotions; leave some for making and executing a plan.
- It’s also equally likely to feel optimistic about and accepting of a change, which may feel inappropriate at times. Don’t waste your energy on guilt, utilize this state to get stuff done that you may not be able to when you’re feeling more fragile.
- Some changes lead to a feeling of lack of control. We perceive the circumstances beyond our control. Building solutions is a good way to regain a sense of control, and it gives us a point of control.
So how do you find control or help someone else find control?
Good change management has three key components:
- stakeholder engagement: keep everyone informed, recruit resources, delegate tasks
- communication: define what info is needed when and why, level of detail for each group, and effective modes of delivery
- learning a new way of doing things/of being: figure out what new skills and tools are required and who needs to get up to speed
Knowing these things, we can work on finding resources and areas of control for each.
In Alberta/Edmonton, there are resources available to support elders and their caregivers. Here is a short list of resources to assist you in your search for support.
211 (Canadian Mental Health Association, Edmonton)
- 211 is a free, confidential service that provides information and referral to a wide range of community, social and government services
- Will help you find: basic needs, employment resources, parenting support, counselling/support groups, health care, legal services
- Available via: phone, chat, online (24/7 in 170 languages)
- Outside Edmonton & area: 780.482.4636
- Offer detailed assessments, outreach
SAGE (Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton)
- Support to enhance senior quality of life
- Provide Directory, and have city-wide support services
- Connect you to services you need; provide assessments and support, and outreach
- Goal: to empower caregivers
- Provide support, education, advocacy, community
- COMPASS (Caregiver Orientation for Mobilizing Personal Assets and Strengths for Self-care) workshop (9 facilitated modules)
AB Health Services, Continuing Care
- Search: Continuing Care/Seniors
- Options based on level of care required
- CHOICE Program (Comprehensive Home Option of Integrated Care for the Elderly): aging in place program
(Canadian) Virtual Hospice
- Info, support on palliative, EOL care, loss, grief
- HUGE resource library, very up to date
- All levels of info & support: layman to professional
Just remember. If nothing else, we always get to choose our attitude. Sometimes that’s all the control we need to recharge and to move forward.