Many words can be used to describe the role of a family caregiver, but “easy” is not one of them. Caregiving is demanding and stressful, yet if done right, it can be incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately, many family caregivers neglect to recognize their personal limitations and they set unrealistic goals about the amount of care they can provide. Having impractical expectations in combination with an unhealthy attitude towards the acceptance of help is the quickest way to end up chronically stressed and on the road to caregiver burnout. When you notice your role as a family caregiver is affecting your quality of life, it’s important to take a step back and recognize you need help. Asking for help when you need it is not about giving up or passing the burden to someone else, nor is it an indicator of how much you care. Finding the courage to ask for help is about understanding how the quality of care you provide for someone else is directly impacted by the care you provide for yourself.
The Truth About Asking For Help
Family caregivers, also referred to as “informal” caregivers, are people who are responsible for attending to the needs of a family member, life partner, or friend. They provide physical, emotional, and sometimes even financial support to the loved one who is unable to care for him or herself due to illness, injury, or disability. Family caregivers usually provide this care without pay.
The reality for many family caregivers is they were unaware of how demanding the job would be. For some, the caregiving role happened abruptly, leaving little time to prepare. And although others saw it coming, they underestimated the amount of work that would be required of them. Regardless of whether becoming a caregiver was foreseeable, it is nearly impossible to do alone. This is especially true for loved ones who require ’round the clock care. Even when you are caring for someone who doesn’t require extensive care, the job is difficult. It is impossible to effectively care for another person without taking time to properly care for yourself. In order to do so, you will need to ask for assistance and know it’s okay to seek out and ask for help when you need it.
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There is a common misconception around the idea of asking for help. Many caregivers are reticent to ask for assistance because they view it as a sign of weakness or inadequacy. That idea could not be further from the truth. Asking for help demonstrates not only the acceptance of one’s own limitations, but it also brings to light the possession of admirable traits – including the following:
Asking for help demonstrates the ability to be honest with both yourself and the person you are caring for. This honesty helps sustain and can possibly even improve your relationship.
Taking the time to figure out how much you can take on and what jobs are better left to the professionals requires a great deal of responsibility. As a family caregiver, the quality of another person’s life is in your hands. It is your responsibility to ensure your loved one gets care suited to their needs.
Accepting help shows the ability to remain humble. Family caregivers need breaks just like anyone else.
Having the courage to ask for help when you need it indicates you are willing to do what is right regardless of your personal feelings.
Many times, family caregivers refuse help or fail to seek out help because they possess an unfavorable attitude towards help, especially paid help. Because of their strong “family takes care of family” mentality, they refuse to recognize outside help as an option. That may have been acceptable when women were defined by society as caretakers, but times have changed and it is usually unrealistic to have someone provide 24/7 care.
When to Ask For Help
It’s important to know when to ask for help. The best time to reach out is before you feel too stressed, a feeling known as caregiver stress. If you are new to being a family caregiver, you may not be able to realize when you are approaching this point, but as time goes on you will be able to tell when you are reaching your limit. If you miss it, the second best time to reach out for help is as soon as you start experiencing the symptoms associated with caregiver stress.
10 common symptoms of caregiver stress indicating it may be time to call for backup include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Health issues
- Drinking or smoking
- Altered Eating habits
Failing to reach out can result in something referred to as caregiver burnout. Caregiver Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Some caregivers even suffer from a change in attitude and they become hostile and resentful.
Common signs of caregiver burnout include
- Having significantly less energy than you had prior to taking on your care role
- Getting sick more frequently
- Feeling constantly exhausted, even after you take a break or sleep
- Neglecting your own needs for various reasons including guilt and time constraints
- Putting your care role in the center of your world
- Having trouble relaxing, even when help is available
- Becoming increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you are caring for.
- Feeling helpless and hopeless
Who to Ask For Help
Before you ask for help, it is crucial to determine what exactly you need help with. There are many caregiving activities you should consider including homemaker (i.e. household maintenance and repairs, running errands, etc.), personal care (i.e. bathing, dressing, etc.), home health care (i.e. hospice aid, skilled nursing care, etc.), and quality of life (i.e. companionship, social advocacy, etc.).
Once you establish what you need help with, create a list of resources and people who can help you. This list will vary from person to person because it is dependent on many factors including the level of care your loved one needs. A few to consider include:
Friends and family. If possible, add friends and family to your list. Get together and establish what help they will be able to provide. Make sure to discuss financial help as well as physical and emotional support.
Neighbors. Neighbors can be an excellent source to turn to. Your loved one likely knows your neighbors and will likely feel more comfortable with a familiar face checking in on them. Even just asking them to stop by their home every once in a while can help you by giving you peace of mind.
Home care services. Home care is one of the most flexible options to find help. Home Care agencies such as Amada are able to accommodate clients based on their personal needs.
Local support group. A local support group allows you to communicate with people having similar issues. You can not only learn a lot from and their experiences, but you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone.
Online forums. Online forums allow you to easily connect with people from a distance. By visiting an online forum, you can find guidance at your convenience.
There are an abundance of online resources available to help you. You can find an extensive list on the Family Caregiver Alliance Website.
Failing to ask for help becomes self-destructive when you can no longer provide a positive contribution to your loved one’s life. Regardless of your good intentions, your ability to provide quality care diminishes when you become chronically stressed. Do yourself and your loved one a favor by finding the courage to ask for help when you need it.
“Family Caregivers: Finding the Courage to Ask for Help When You Need It,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.
The Eldercare Planner,” by Joy Laverne