Finding help for family caregivers begins with deciding to look for help. It is something with which many caregivers wrestle and often talk themselves out of. By doing so, they are paving their path to isolation and overwhelm. Many factors affect a caregiver’s decision to not seek assistance with caring for a loved one.
Some of these include feeling like he /she should be able to handle caregiving alone, that it is solely his /her duty to do so, the need to control, fear of being perceived as a failure by others (and by self), assuming that others won’t /can’t help, not wanting to “burden” anyone with chores, not knowing whom to ask for help or what kind of help to ask for, etc.
So, the first step to improving a situation that usually becomes more complex over time is to see caregiving – and getting help – under a different and more realistic light. What if, starting right now, we defined caregiving as “a project of compassion under 1 manager or coordinator”? What if we saw that this project had many sub-projects – tasks that had assistant managers in charge of them.
In this case, it would be the manager’s responsibility to recruit helpers or team members, an action that would not be perceived as an inability to perform or a burden. Instead, it would be considered sensible and necessary for the success of the project.
Another way of looking at caregiving would be to see it as a community effort, a labor of love for those dear to us. Again, giving others an opportunity to help in any way they can would be rewarding, rather than a burden. Approaching caregiving in this light may make it easier for the over-committed caregiver to seek partners with whom to carry out this “project of compassion.”
Now, it is time to define the tasks for which the family caregiver needs help, to put them on a list and to prioritize them. Some jobs are obvious, such as driving your caree to a doctor’s appointment or visiting him /her while you attend your child’s soccer game or concert.
Other tasks can be added to the list that may not be caregiving directly, but that need to be done by the caregiver. These include house cleaning, laundry, errands, groceries, picking up medications, cooking, doing taxes, paying bills (online or otherwise), making a will or advance directives, snow shoveling, yard work, etc.
Don’t forget to include on that to-do list some time to rest /relax /take a break /socialize. Taking care of the caregiver is just as important as taking care of the caree! Without a leader in charge – pulled away from the job due to poor health, lack of sleep, stress – it’s very difficult to manage this very special endeavor.
The next step involves actively looking for help. The family caregiver can begin by making a list of people in the family, friends or neighbors that can be asked to assist. Notice that I didn’t say people “that you think would help.” We are stepping outside our old way of thinking and moving forward with a new attitude toward caregiving! We do not know what others are thinking or their schedules, so we are not going to assume that we know their answer.
Caregivers can also Google “adult day centers” or “caregiver volunteers + your city” to see area groups who can assist with caregiving. Area Agencies on Aging, local chapters of various disease-focused organizations and faith-based groups also provide support and assistance. Don’t rule out hiring professional caregivers. Many require a minimum commitment of hours per week or month, but it’s worth looking into.
The last step is to take action: ASK for help! You have the list of tasks that you wrote and prioritized. Now you can invite family and friends to be part of your caregiving community and to pick a task. Several online tools and apps exist to help caregivers coordinate help.
Caregiving is a huge responsibility that encompasses a variety of tasks, not always medical in nature. When you think about it, the family caregiver is actually taking on an entire set of duties and activities that belonged to another person.
Accepting these new circumstances, together with their challenges and limitations, can help family caregivers to adapt to the changes that will inevitably follow. The tried and true ways that have worked for a “normal” life may no longer work in this instance. Approaching caregiving as a project in which their community can participate will allow family caregivers to travel a less lonely and more manageable road.