Care for Caregivers: Knowing When to Take a Break

Caregivers are a blessing for the patient who is no longer able to perform many of the daily tasks of life for him or herself. In addition to the foregoing, the services of a dedicated caregiver will become more and more important as an illness progresses and further impairs a patient’s ability to manage even the simplest aspects of daily living. Yet while caregivers are such important people, they have a lot more to deal with than meets the eye.

Considering that many caregivers are close family members, oftentimes grown up children caring for their parents, the change in the parent child relationship is quite often devastating for the caregiver. It is indeed hard to look at a parent whose health is failing, who is no longer able to care for her or himself, needs help with feeding and perhaps even toileting, and then remembering the strong individual this person used to be. Sometimes grown children are not ready for this transition and wish it were progressing slower, or are simply afraid of the inevitability of the patient’s fate. Of course, the patient, very often the parent, may not be ready for this transition in the parent-child relationship either, and in addition to the physical and metal impairments may experience severe emotional distress that finds no outlet but against the caregiver.

As you can see, these care giving situations are a potential breeding ground for anger, frustration, discord, and great emotional upheaval, and there are times when a caregiver literally needs a time-out. Yet how will you know when to take a break? Here are four tried and true tips that will help you to ascertain when it is time to step back for a breather.

1. If you find that emotionally or physically your well being is beginning to suffer, it is time to take a break. For example, if you suffer from health challenges yourself but have them under control, yet suddenly they flare up worse than ever before you know that your role as caregiver is beginning to affect your health. Similarly, if you suddenly realize that you are suffering from a bout of depression or clinical anxiety, or if you find your relationships with others marred by withdrawal, irritability, or sudden angry outbursts, you know that it is time to step back. Obviously you cannot do away with your care giving, yet this may be the time to either find a support group that will allow you to channel and vent your anger in a safe environment, or perhaps you may wish to find a relief caregiver who can come in when you need a break. Ideally, these two combined will help you preserve your emotional and physical health.

2. The change in the relationship is a tough road to navigate for many a caregiver. Suddenly privy to the most intimate facts of the loved one’s life, you will have access to financial records and many other documents that may bring to light carefully guarded secrets. In addition to the foregoing, because of some of the secrets that you may uncover, you will not feel comfortable going to friends and family for support. Sometimes these revelations are more than you feel you can cope with, and the support of a group of likeminded individuals is invaluable.

3. Unfortunately, the change in the caregiver to patient relationship is irreversible and this knowledge will very often contribute to a caregiver’s sinking into a severe depression her or himself. If you find that you are having nagging doubts about yourself worth, or carry excessive guilt about your inability to meet your loved one’s needs better, if you are unable to sleep well, notice severe changes in your appetite and subsequent your weight, if you are consistently tired and moody, then you may need to take some time out and visit a doctor who will be able to help you through this bout of depression. This is not an unusual experience for caregivers, but left unchecked, it will severely decrease your quality of life. Your physician may suggest your joining a support group, enter into some “talking therapy” and perhaps also prescribe some medication to help with the worst of the symptoms.

4. A very serious problem that is experienced by patients is that of abuse. Sadly, it is often a caregiver who is the abuser, and sometimes the caregiver may not even realize what she or he is doing. Some kinds of abuse are obvious, for example physical abuse that causes injury or emotional abuse that evidences itself in verbal threats or verbal assaults. Yet there are some kinds of abuse that are a lot harder to detect and that are not being done because the caregiver is trying to abuse the patient, but simply to help her or him cope with the situation, for example unnecessary confinement, when the loved one is restrained longer than needed simply to give the caregiver a break. If you find that you are snapping at your loved one, treating her or him more roughly than necessary, and simply wish she or he would just stay in her or his room for a few hours, you need a break. Your feelings are entirely normal and this is the time to enlist other to help in the care giving to give you a day or afternoon off.

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