Support groups are invaluable for caregivers who feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Make them a priority in routine caregiver self-care.
The number one rule of caregiving is take care of yourself first. This rule is easy to overlook when we’re caught up in the daily routine of caregiving. The elderly, like children, often require constant attention and at the end of the day, it’s easy to overlook one’s own needs.
As a caregiver to my dearly departed mother and my father, who is still alive, I learned the hard way about the rule, which I would prefer to a call a survival strategy. The drive to care for a loved one eclipses the instinct for self-preservation in a counterproductive, vicious cycle: you can’t take good care of others if your own health isn’t optimal.
(For the purpose of this article, caregiver will refer to “family” or “informal” caregiver — one who provides unpaid assistance in daily living and medical needs — as opposed to “formal” caregiver — one who provides paid labor and who is available for hire through companies like Angel Home Care Services.)
While I don’t regret a minute spent caring for my parents, I can look back now and share what I would have done differently to alleviate caregiver burnout.
For one, I would have benefited from being part of a support group; however, it never even dawned on me that one would be available to the estimated 43.5 million number of adult family caregivers who care for someone 50 years of age or older. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association via Caregiver.org). I was too busy to even think about adding another task to my plate. The last thing I wanted to do during my time off from caregiving was to talk about caregiving.
But I think it’s really important to talk as much as you can with people who are also experiencing the challenges of being a caregiver, which in my case, was being a single mom to my parents — a mother with Alzheimer’s, a father with dementia.
I was not alone! According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 14.9 family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association via Caregiver.org).
Because we couldn’t always afford a sitter, the number of event invitations I declined kept climbing, which left me disconnected from my social network. My friends were sympathetic, but I couldn’t blame them if they got tired of hearing the same old story; I was the only one in my circle of friends caring for elderly parents. Their lives were flowing. Mine was at a standstill.
Even if I had hired services from companies such as Angel Home Care Services, I still would have found solace in making new friends facing similar challenges in their social and professional lives. My sense of isolation and loneliness would have been mitigated had I reached out to support groups.
NEVER TOO LATE TO SEEK CAREGIVER SUPPORT
Luckily, earlier this year, I found a local Miami bereavement support group through Jewish Community Services, which provides numerous services to the community at large, regardless of religious affiliation. Although I attend this group to honor the memory of my mother, it has helped me tremendously in what I call the “pre-grieving” stage for my father. Having experienced the death of a beloved parent is one thing; knowing that the death of the other parent is imminent is wholly another.
I know now that it would have made a world of difference to make “me time” and gather with other caregivers.
At the group, there is no judgment. Some members are still grieving family or friends who passed years ago. For others, the pain is fresh. Some have lost children, while others have lost spouses. Like me, many have been caregivers. Two facilitators lead the group, but we are all co-creators in the talk.
I’m glad that I found this group, which meets twice a month. Although I can’t turn back the clock for how I dealt with the stresses of caregiving while my mother was still alive, it’s helping me tremendously now that I still advocate for my father. It’s time well spent and a respite I look forward to every month.
It’s not too late for me to reap the benefits of a support group. The sense of friendship in the group and the patience with which we all listen to each other brings me peace and comfort. I feel relaxed — the perfect antidote from burnout.
If you’re caregiving for a parent, I strongly encourage you to seek out a support group in your area. If you’re not able to attend one in person, there are online resources. I’ll share more about available resources in a follow-up post.
In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
— Maria de los Angeles is an award-winning writer based in Miami who became a caregiver to her parents in 2008. Since then, she has been a passionate advocate for eldercare and caregiver issues.Claudio Alegre is the CEO & Chief Content Writer for Angel Home Care Services on the Web and Patient and Family Advocate off the Web. He lives in Miami with his wife and 3 boys. He's passionate about healthcare and all things caregiving. He can be reached at [email protected] or directly at 305.220.4544
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