April 06, 2017
It is estimated that caregivers provide 40-100 hours of care per week for their loved ones. Those who work outside of the home average forty hours of caregiving (like a second full-time job!), while those who are at home full-time average as much as one hundred hours each week.
“The Family Caregiver Alliance states that the average woman will spend seventeen years raising children and eighteen years caring for elderly parents. Sometimes these roles overlap, creating what is known as “the sandwich generation.” The individual in the position of the ‘bologna’ between these enormous slices of responsibilities can feel suffocated.”1
Caregiving is an exhausting, 24/7 responsibility much like having a newborn in the house. The difference? You’re no longer twenty-something and your patient is not going to grow out of this stage.
You’re a Caregiver, Not a Savior
Sometimes our independent spirit gets in the way of asking for help. My mother-in-law tried to care for her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband alone on their ranch. She was under so much stress that her doctor prescribed an antidepressant to calm her nerves. He also called her stepdaughter who lived fifty miles away, advising her that she needed to come over every week and give her stepmom a break. Knowing that she would have an afternoon every week to run errands, get her hair cut, or see friends relieved much of the pressure on Mom, allowing her to keep her husband home until the later stages of the disease.
Sometimes others recognize our need for a break sooner than we do ourselves. A homeschool mom gave birth to a severely-disabled child who required 24/7 care. Home health visiting nurses recognized that after a year of non-stop caring for her son and homeschooling her older children, this mom was exhausted. They arranged for several shifts of nurses to come in for a few days to give this mom a break so she could attend a homeschool conference. While there she was able to enjoy fellowship with other women and regain her perspective as she stepped out of the caregiver role for a few days.
Even jugglers learn they can only juggle so many balls at once. You are a servant to your loved one, but you are not their Savior. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. You need little mini-breaks throughout the day and longer breaks when you call others for help. Collect the names and phone numbers of those who can step in when you need assistance.
Get Some Help
Check with your local Council on Aging or your hospital to find names of qualified caregivers. Perhaps your church has (or should develop) a ministry to caregivers. A teen might be able to come in for a few hours each week, either to sit with the patient or to do housework so you are free to relax a bit. A distant sibling may be able to fly in to care for Mom for a few days or at least pay for care while you get some time off.
Give Yourself Some Care Too!
Take care of yourself so you will be strong enough to finish this marathon we call caregiving. Eat well, not just grabbing a bite here and there. Get some exercise, even if it is simply doing some stretches or pedaling a stationary bicycle. And by all means get enough rest: nap when your parent is napping instead of catching up on housework. Set aside a day to get extra rest; a Sabbath rest each week refreshes your body, mind, and spirit.
Take a Break
Carve out time each day so you can do something that is relaxing or pleasurable to you. Perhaps you will work on craft projects or read or take a bubble bath. Maybe you will set aside time to participate in an online caregivers’ support group or to write notes to your grandchildren or to do a bit of gardening. A few minutes here and there can help you to keep your emotional balance.
Take a mini-vacation from time to time. Louise Carey writes that it had been an uneventful day. Her father-in-law had not exhibited any bizarre behaviors.
“But by the time we sat down for dinner, I felt as if I were going to scream. When I told Tim [her husband], he was surprised.
“You’re acting nice,” he said.
“I might be nice on the outside, but I’m screaming inside.”2
Her husband sent her to a friend’s house where they watched an old movie, did handcrafts, and no one repeated a story or interrupted a conversation. She needed those three hours of therapeutic time away from home, and her wise husband sent her out to get them. She came home refreshed.
Look for the Positives
Ask God to give you creative solutions to the day-to-day challenges you face as a caregiver. Be on the watch for God’s hidden encouragement—the times when it has been a long hard day and your loved one puts her arms around you as you tuck her into bed and whispers, “I don’t know what I would do without you.” Or perhaps it is hearing a snippet of a favorite hymn or receiving a phone call from a friend.
And sometimes our Father just speaks to us in that still, quiet voice and says, “You are doing the right thing and I am here walking beside you.” And then we are reminded that caregivers have a Caregiver, too.
Daily breaks and mini-vacations of a few hours will help you to continue your ministry of caregiving. But if you are a long-term caregiver, you will need some extended escapes, too. We will discuss longer vacations in next month’s newsletter.
© 2017 by Marcia K. Washburn who writes from her home in Colorado. Through the years, Marcia has cared for four adult relatives in her home, and presently cares for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer Disease. Marcia is the Assistant Director of Christian Family Eldercare. Her book, Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers, is available at ChristianFamilyEldercare.org.
1. Twice Blessed: Encouragement for the Caregiver and Carereceiver by Laura Z. Sowers (Broadman & Holman: 2005), p. 94↩
2. The Hedge People: How I Kept My Sanity and Sense of Humor as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver by Louise Carey (Beacon Hill Press: 2009), pp. 18-19 ↩
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