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For caregivers, balance isn’t optional

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: For the past several years, I was the primary caregiver for my elderly parents before they died. Now my husband has become wholly reliant on me for his care. I am exhausted and getting deeply discouraged. I keep hearing the same thing from people, that I’ve got to take better care of myself. But how do I do this when he relies on me to meet all his needs?

A: Well-intentioned friends have expressed their concerns about the responsibilities you have been shouldering for many years. However, it is difficult to comprehend the emotional and physical stress of caregiving until people experience it themselves. If your goal is to care for your husband at home, it is necessary for you to find balance in your own life.

Far too many of us who assume the caregiver role began thinking we could do it all, every day. But unless we have the strength and stamina of Superman, sooner or later, we risk physical and emotional overload. Caregivers sometimes presume relatives and friends will automatically assist them. If this doesn’t happen, their pride, frustration, and resentment may prevent them from reaching out. Some individuals may be willing to help but might be unsure what is needed or how exactly they could make a difference. If you don’t ask, you will never know whether others are just waiting for you to say something.

Don’t delay in making time for yourself. Stick to your plan and don’t feel guilty about doing so.

Here are some tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Pursue all options to obtain additional help in caring for your spouse. Realize you must relinquish some control in this area.
  • Call your husband’s physician to ask if he would qualify for reimbursed services through Medicare. If appropriate, the physician will give orders for a certified agency to visit your home and assess your husband’s health and functional status.
  • Contact our agency at 1-800-892-0890 to learn more about our resources. Our workshops include the Savvy Caregiver Program and Powerful Tools for Caregivers. In addition, we offer the Family Caregiver Support Program for anyone living in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore or caring for an individual in this region. Elder Services also provides other respite and support services. And all of these offerings are free of charge.

It is also important to prioritize tasks and realize you can’t achieve perfection. For example, your house doesn’t have to look like a showroom. Be sure to find time every day to do something relaxing: soak in a bath, read a book, or listen to calming music. It is also vital that you have someone you can call when the stress mounts up or if you feel especially down in the dumps. This could be a friend who is a good listener or a person working on a caregivers’ resource line. Good luck—and take care!

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email info@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.