EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 25, 2013

Exhausted caregiver needs advice on keeping her strength up

Roseanne DiStefano
Elder Q&A

---- — Q: For several years I have been the primary caregiver for my husband. I am exhausted and becoming very discouraged. Everyone keeps saying if I don’t take good care of myself I won’t be able to continue caring for my husband. The problem is no one tells me how to do this. What suggestions do you have?

A: Unless someone has “walked in your shoes” they don’t always completely understand the stressors you experience on a daily basis. Understandably well-intentioned individuals, both professionals and personal acquaintances, have expressed their concerns about the responsibility you have assumed. If something happens to you, your spouse will most likely face certain placement in a long term care facility. If your goal is to keep him at home as long as possible you have to find balance in your life.

Far too many of us who have assumed the caregiver role at one time or another started out thinking we could do it all. Unless someone has the stamina of Superman sooner or later they run the risk of physical and emotional overload. Shocking statistics reveal around 30 percent of primary caregivers die before the care recipient. Without further delay schedule time for yourself, stick to the plan and don’t feel guilty for thinking about yourself for a change. Here are tips to point you in the right direction.

Pursue all options for additional help in caring for your husband. Realize you are going to have to relinquish some control in this area. Contact your husband’s physician to enquire if he would qualify for reimbursed services through Medicare. If appropriate the physician will give orders for a certified agency to come to the home and make an assessment of your husband’s health condition and functional status. Call the Area Agency on Aging covering your town to ask if in-home help or respite care is available. The services may be provided on a voluntary donation or on a sliding fee basis. If you have financial resources and ability to pay for additional care there are numerous companion and personal care homemaker agencies to choose from.

Sometimes caregivers automatically assume other relatives and friends are going to come to their assistance. When this doesn’t immediately happen frustration, resentment and pride may keep the caregiver from reaching out. There may be people willing to help but they may not know what is needed or how they could make a difference. If you don’t ask you will never know if others are just waiting for you to say something.

It is also important to prioritize tasks and realize sometimes you need to let things go, one can’t always achieve to be a perfectionist. The house doesn’t always have to look like the picture on a home decorating magazine or every meal doesn’t have to be gourmet cuisine, tidy and nutritious are sufficient. Find time every day to do something relaxing whether that be taking a long bath, reading a book or listening to calming music. It is also important to have someone you can call when the stress mounts or you are feeling down in the dumps, this could be a friend who is a good listener or a caregiver’s resource line.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers, direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. 360 Merrimack Street B#5, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley.