“There are only four kinds of people in the world ― those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need care.” –Rosalynn Carter
There are many concerns to acknowledge regarding responsibilities of a caregiver. Taking into consideration the emotional needs of both the caregiver and the care receiver is often overlooked due to addressing other more immediate needs. Increasing the understanding of the emotional aspects can provide insight and enhance the cooperative relationship.
The Care Receiver
It is easy to imagine the daunting tasks that caregiving for a loved one might involve. One more often imagines themselves in the possible role of caregiver than of the one receiving care. No one wants to envision that they may some day depend upon the care of another for basic needs, even if only during a time of recovery from a broken bone or surgery. Relinquishing one’s pride and self sufficiency is not easy and imagining yourself in that place is a humbling exercise.
An accident, heart attack, or stroke can immediately put family or friends in unexpected roles. Understanding the emotions of the person who is now ill or recovering is not always on the forefront of our awareness unless we have been in their shoes, or have previously cared for someone in a similar experience. The more ill, in pain, or injured the recipient is, the more the emphasis is about relief rather than about loss. Yet, the severity and duration of their debilitation may initiate emotions typical of loss and grieving.
Independence is a freedom attained from early steps as a toddler to individualism earned as a teen. When ones independence is compromised, as may occur if a stroke or accident has left one without full functioning, then the cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance may be expected.
While some emotions, such as anger, are a normal expression of grief, if one is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease, the middle stage symptoms of this disease can include verbal and physical aggression. Expressions of anger may be due to the changes in the brain and not a rational lashing out for any wrong-doing of the caregiver, or for reasons of loss or grief.
Well-intended friends and loved ones may express gratitude for a “life being saved,” or the fact that life-altering news “could have been worse.” The comments and perceptions may be valid, yet the need for adequate grieving should not be minimized. No matter how much we want to help another and to make them feel better, patience and understanding is needed to help them transition to acceptance.
Caring for another is an act of compassion, of love, of fully honoring the care recipient. The reality, however, can seem anything but loving if the caregiver feels trapped, or burned out. Twenty-one percent of the adult American population cares for someone over the age of 50.
The high cost of health care has forced hospitals to send patients home for extended care and home based services. Many families are left with no option but to quit a job to care for a loved one, or to make room in their own home for the healing or disabled family member. In many cases there doesn’t appear to be an option, however, not everyone should adopt the role, and should first truthfully examine if they can take on the mental, emotional, and physical tasks. Although the heart may be willing, sometimes the physical burden may be just too great.
As caregivers have less time for themselves, their families, and friends the emotional and physical strain becomes more noticeable, sometimes resulting in poor health or even depression.
A caregiver can feel guilty for the emotions they may experience and attempt to hide or deny any resentment or anger for this change to their life.
- It’s important to have someone to confide,
- to arrange for times of respite,
- to obtain education and suggestions from organizations about caregiving,
- to set boundaries,
- to seek guidance and encouragement from ministers or professionals,
- and to recruit assistance from other family members or from the community in ways that address the needs of the caregiver and the care receiver.
Caring for another can be a blessing. Togetherness may result where there had been physical or emotional distance over the years. Stories, wisdom and life lessons can be shared where the opportunity may not otherwise have happened. The occasion for friends to come together again or for children to better know their relative can be an invaluable outcome. Being present to a family member or friend during their final days is a precious time.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
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