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Caring for the Caregiver

December 9th, 2008


There’s a reason they call it the life cycle – we’re helpless at birth, we grow into self-sufficient adults, and we revert back to helplessness as we age; the cycle of life is complete at death. While most of us are not averse to and always enjoy looking after little children, we’re reluctant to get our care-giving side to kick in when it comes to looking after the elderly, especially those who are ill and need special care. While some do it for the perks that come later (where there’s a will, there’s a motive), there are others who are genuinely dedicated to their old parents or relatives and do everything they possibly can to give them the best care till they die a peaceful death. It’s the latter kind who end up running themselves ragged in their zeal to be good caregivers, and neglect to take care of themselves. For these caregivers and others like them, here are a few “ME” tips:

    * Don’t let your patients get to you: Children and the elderly are more alike than we realize – they’re masters of manipulation. They know how to feed your guilt and get you to do things for them that they’re perfectly capable of doing themselves. They make you feel miserable if you so much as show the slightest signs of refusing them. If you give in to them once, you’re bound to give in to them at all times, fearing the tantrums and/or snide remarks that are too difficult to handle. Put your foot down firmly if you feel they’re taking you for granted, without feeling guilty about it, or you’ll end up resenting their demands for your time and attention.
    * Don’t end up becoming a patient yourself: Look after yourself well so that you’re well enough to take care of those who depend on you. If you neglect yourself, you may end up falling ill and unable to care for yourself or for the people who live with you. Eat healthy food, get in an hour of exercise, and get out in the fresh air once every day.
    * Set aside time for yourself: Make some “ME” time everyday so that you can enjoy doing the things you love most. Schedule these activities when you know you are not likely to be interrupted, like when your elderly charges are down for an afternoon nap or late at night after they’ve retired for the day.
    * Don’t feel disappointed if you’re not appreciated: Care-giving is often a thankless job, and you’re bound to feel depressed and resentful if you expect appreciation for looking after your elderly parents or relatives. While some people are grateful, others think that it’s your bounden duty to care for them. You know you’re doing it out of the goodness of your heart, and that should be enough thanks for you. Expecting gratitude when none is forthcoming is only going to end in disappointment and regret.
    * Spend time with other people like yourself: Most people don’t understand the stress and loneliness that are a part and parcel of caregivers’ lives, unless they’re caregivers themselves. Spend some time each week meeting people in situations similar to yours so that you have a forum to share your feelings and frustrations.