At Caring Hearts, we meet families every day who are struggling to care for aging loved ones. These daughters, sons and spouses describe how they can’t enjoy their family relationships any more because their caregiving duties are overwhelming them.
This loss of choice and control has been so prevalent in these conversations that we started identifying this problem as the Caregiving Dilemma. I personally experienced it while caring for aging family members of my own some years ago, and it seems that more and more people are dealing with it these days. They come to our local senior care agencies for help when they realize it’s not worth agonizing over the Caregiving Dilemma alone anymore.
My friends and colleagues, the franchise owners of these local Caring Hearts offices, are on the front lines of this issue. They’ve been gracious in sharing their experiences with me, and today I’d like to share some of these stories with you in the hope that they might help anyone currently struggling with the Caregiving Dilemma.
Caregiving Can Take a Toll on the Whole Family
Mitch Williams, who owns Caring Hearts of San Mateo County, California, with his wife, Peggy, says that when family caregivers really begin to feel the Caregiving Dilemma, what results is “burnout, frustration, loss of control and even in some cases extreme anger.”
Mitch recently spoke with us about the complex relationships that become even more challenging as a caregiver:
“The most common situation we see almost every day is the effect the Caregiving Dilemma has on the ENTIRE family. The seniors feel like they are intruding unnecessarily on their adult children, and the adult children (the family caregivers) experience multi-level guilt: They feel that they’re neglecting their own kids, spouse and chores at home; they feel guilty when they have to take care of themselves; and they really just feel like they can never spend enough time taking care of their parents.”
A caregiver at Caring Hearts of San Mateo with her care client.
Sam Sellers, the owner of Caring Hearts of Little Rock, Arkansas, had similar words to share. Recently, two different cases of the Caregiving Dilemma walked in his door. In the first instance, it was an older woman whose husband was living with Alzheimer’s disease. In the second, a woman’s mother had fallen and broken a hip, and her father was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
“In both instances, what I heard was the Caregiver Dilemma. They both played the role of caregiver to the best of their ability, but they were overwhelmed with that role and really wanted the role they were initially cast for. The first woman told me, ‘I want to by my husband’s wife again.’ The second woman used almost that exact same language: ‘I just want to be their daughter.’ ”
Another instance worth sharing comes from Alabama, where Caring Hearts of Jacksonville franchise owner Kim McCutcheon said, “The most profound example we have experienced of the Caregiving Dilemma is when an elderly husband or wife is the primary caregiver for the other who has dementia.” She shared the story of a recent client family with us:
“In this case, the primary caregiver is the wife and she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her husband, who adores her, has Alzheimer’s. He cannot care for her now and she can no longer care for him. They have no children. Nearby relatives have tried to provide care around the clock but they have quickly learned that the task is too great for them. There are meals to prepare, doctor’s appointments, and household chores to be done. There are bed baths, a potty chair that needs emptied, and medicine to manage.
“Full-time personal care for two adults with completely different needs can be very overwhelming. Thankfully, this family recognized that they wouldn’t be able to do it alone and reached out to our office for help. We have placed a team of caregivers in their home to provide assistance with their activities of daily living 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Resolving the Caregiving Dilemma
These families eventually came to the conclusion that extra hands were needed, and we take pride in our ability to help them restore balance in their lives.
“Whether it’s a health crisis, or simply an acknowledgment that they can no longer successfully manage the needs of their parents along with the needs of their own lives—that’s when we get the call. With empathy and caring, we’re able to help lower their sense of guilt and of being lost. We simply guide them down the path of how we can help.
“You can actually feel the stress leave their voice as we move to implementing a care plan. The majority of the letters of appreciation we receive are from adult children who simply say ‘Thank you for taking care of my mom and allowing me to be her child and not her caregiver.’ ”
Mitch and Peggy, in San Mateo, have had the same experience:
“We have directly enabled hundreds of adult children to cease being caregivers and to be adult children again—a much different relationship than the caregiver one. It’s also allowed the adult children to regain balance in their own lives. The families can rest easy knowing their loved one is safe at home. They have healthier diets, and take medications as scheduled.”
When asked about how they have been able to improve the lives of families stuck in the Caregiving Dilemma, Kim, in Alabama, and Sam, in Arkansas, had nearly the same words.
“Relief is the word I would use to describe the look on their faces when our team of caregivers showed up on the first day for introductions. They were so thankful to have someone to help shoulder the load of full-time care for beloved family members.”
“Just listening to their situation and reassuring them that help was on the way prompted both of them to respond, ‘I already feel a great sense of relief.’
“The daughter sent me a handwritten note a few weeks ago. In part, it read: ‘Caregivers are blessed to have Caring Hearts and you on their side, by their side.’ THAT is what makes my chosen profession so meaningful.”
Advice for Newcomers to the Family Caregiver Role
As local experts on caregiving for seniors, Caring Hearts franchise owners and staff are often approached for advice by family members faced with a new care situation. Here are the top three pointers these care professionals offered for our readers:
1) Take care of yourself.
“The number one thing I often say is, ‘Take care of yourself or you won’t be ABLE to care for your parent.’ ” —Mitch Williams
2) Don’t do everything by yourself.
“Don’t wait to seek help with caregiving, especially if it looks like the illness or injury is going to be a lengthy one. Don’t try to do everything by yourself. Caregiver burnout is a real thing, and if you are the only one providing the care, what will your loved one do if something happens to you?” —Kim McCutcheon
3) Hire only the best senior care available.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is to find a reputable caregiving agency to help provide care to your family. Meet the owner. If you don’t like him or her, it’s indicative of how your experience with the agency will be.” —Kim McCutcheon
Are you navigating a new caregiving situation and need some advice? Feel free to contact us or comment below. You can also follow us on social media for daily advice and inspiration. Find us on Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook.