Does It Ever Get Easier? Encouragement for New Caregivers

Overview

Published: 03/30/2012

by Michelle Seitzer

Photos

 

The first day, month, and year of anything new can be a discouraging time. A new job, new school, or bringing home a newborn -- these life events are exciting, terrifying, challenging, and rewarding all at once. Riding the proverbial learning curve can leave you frustrated on the worst days and exhilarated on the best.

 

The first day, month and year of caregiving is much the same. There are countless adjustments, great and small, and it can be a lonely and isolating experience depending on the intensity of the role and responsibilities.

 

Your life changes dramatically when you become a caregiver. Sometimes, this change happens overnight: for example, after a parent is hospitalized for an illness or medical issue that will require care for a short or long period of time following release. In the case of Alzheimer’s or dementia, your life and roles/responsibilities as a caregiver change every day as the disease gradually renders your loved one incapable of self-care.

 

There is no blueprint for successful caregiving, no handbook for how to be the best caregiver. There are thousands of books, websites and organizations that offer advice, support, resources and information, but the caregiving path will look different for everyone based on their unique family dynamics, their caree’s specific needs, where they live, and more.

 

On days when you feel like an absolute failure (and yes, those days will come), on days when you feel you will never be the caregiver you want or think you should be, reach out.

 

In the United States alone, there are over 65 million family caregivers (per data from the National Family Caregivers Association). That massive number doesn’t even include those who are professional caregivers in assisted living or nursing homes (yes, they have frustrating days too), and doesn’t include the untold numbers of people who are caregivers even if they don’t consider themselves as such. Take comfort in these numbers; remember you are not alone.

 

Don’t keep your fears and frustrations -- even your victories and successes -- to yourself. Don’t isolate yourself in your time of greatest need. Talk to someone. Call a dear friend, connect with others via online caregiver forums, work with a therapist, join a support group, or better yet, do all of the above.

 

Find what works for you. Don’t compare yourself to other caregivers you know or read about. No one knows what you or your loved one needs better than you and your loved one. Comparison is often more crippling than it is constructive, so keep your eyes on the person you love and be aware of your own needs as a caregiver before looking elsewhere. If you find a caregiving strategy that works for you, don’t look for affirmation of it in a book or blog, just go with it, and be proud of your accomplishment.

 

Yes, your caregiving situation is unique, but there are others who already are or will eventually find themselves in similar situations. When you feel you’ve become more comfortable with your role as a caregiver, seek to mentor or encourage a new caregiver. You’ve been there; you know how daunting it can be. Help them sort through their emotions and anxieties, recommend resources, and offer a listening ear or shoulder to cry on.

 

Caregiving is an unpredictable journey. Celebrate the highs and push through the lows that are sure to come.