Coping with uncertainty when caring for a loved one
By Lisa M. Petsche
Looking after an aging relative, however rewarding, is not without its share of stress.
If the relative has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, one source of stress may be uncertainty about the future. For instance, how are your relative’s needs likely to change and over what time period? How will your own health hold up? Will your relative eventually require residential care?
While no one knows what the future holds, there are strategies that can be used to cope with challenges and changes. If you are a caregiver, read on for some of them.
Accept the reality of your relative’s illness so you can move forward and channel your energy in constructive ways.
Allow yourself to experience all emotions that surface.
Accept that how your relative feels and what they can do may fluctuate, and be flexible about plans and expectations.
Educate yourself about your relative’s diagnosis.
Be open to learning practical skills, such as proper transferring and bathing techniques. This will make caregiving as safe and pleasant as possible and boost your self-confidence.
Contact the local Agency on Aging to learn about community services that can assist you and your relative.
Allow yourself and your relative plenty of time to adjust to the illness and the changes it necessitates. Be patient and keep communication lines open.
Keep the rest of the family informed of changes in your relative’s status.
Involve your relative and other family members in decision-making as much as possible.
Share information with healthcare professionals about your relative’s needs, abilities and preferences. Ask questions, express concerns and offer opinions as you feel the need.
Find out what to expect during the course of the illness in terms of probable symptom progression as well as care-giving skills, medical equipment and community supports likely to be needed.
Determine your relative’s wishes regarding living arrangements, outside help, surrogate decision-making, medical intervention and end-of-life care and funeral arrangements. Be careful, though, not to make promises you may not be able to keep.
Help your relative get their affairs in order, including completing legal paperwork such as advance directives, powers of attorney and a will.
Eliminate sources of stress in your life wherever possible. Set priorities, streamline tasks and learn to settle for less than perfection.
Take things one day at a time so you don’t become overwhelmed.
Learn to live in the moment and enjoy life’s simpler pleasures.
Cultivate a healthy sense of humor.
Set aside quiet time each day to nurture your spirituality and help keep you grounded.
Do something that provides you with meaning and purpose outside of the caregiving role, such as scrapbooking or researching your family tree.
Look after your health. Eat nutritious meals, get adequate rest, exercise and see your physician regularly.
Find something relaxing you can do to give yourself a daily mini-break—perhaps reading or listening to music.
Schedule regular breaks from caregiving duties to recharge your batteries. Take a couple of hours, a day or an overnight.
Stay connected to your friends.
Find someone you can comfortably talk to about your thoughts and feelings.
Talk with other caregivers. They understand better than anyone else what you are going through. Join a support group in your community or on the Internet.
Accept offers of help. Ask other family members to share the load and be specific about what you need. Don’t try to go it alone.
Research and take advantage of respite services in your community.
Join a caregivers’ organization—for example, the National Family Caregivers Association (www.nfcacares.org)—that offers information and support and advocates for caregivers’ needs.
Seek help from your primary physician or a counselor if you continually feel sad, angry or overwhelmed. If you have a clinical depression there is treatment available.
Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior issues. She has personal and professional experience with elder care.