Courageous Conversations Key to Avoiding Caregiver Fatigue

The glass of juice spilt, and Stephen watched in shock as his usually gentle and calm sister Karen grabbed their 84-year-old mother’s arm in a vice grip shaking it and yelling, “You have to be more careful, Mom!” Stephen had never seen this kind of behaviour in his sister, but he had to admit that since their mom had moved in with her, Karen was increasingly stressed.

60% of Canadians who care for an ageing parent say the responsibilities leave them feeling worried or distressed, 30% report feeling angry and irritable*. Often compassion, loyalty, and love lead us into a caregiver lifestyle that can drain us mentally and physically. We may be driven by the desire provide our senior parents with the same sacrificial love that they gave us as children, but we find ourselves extended beyond our abilities.

When we reach the tipping point and anger, depression and anxiety creep into our caring it’s a sure sign of caregiver fatigue. These symptoms tell us that something needs to give, and change starts when we dare to step into honest conversations.

Providing the best care for an ageing parent requires caring for yourself. An essential aspect of self-care is taking time to talk with trusted allies, those who listen with compassion and allow you to speak honestly of your personal experiences. Whether it’s sharing with a friend over coffee, seeking out a support group for those walking the same journey, or paying for professional counselling, talking about your internal world is essential to your emotional health.

A second essential conversation that needs to happen is the one where you ask for help. It’s an easy conversation to avoid, but your parent’s well being, and yours depend on sharing the load. Family members, community health services, local seniors-centric businesses can all be a resource to assist you in providing support for you for your loved one.

Brainstorm with family and friends on specific solutions that have everyone participating at the level they are able.  It could be as simple as creating a weekly meal schedule that everyone contributes to, or having young adult children take Grandma to a movie on the weekends. Adult Day Care Centres can provide solutions that allow for a day off. If a more extended break is in order, some seniors communities offer respite care.

“Respite care allows you to step out of the role of caregiver and become a wife/daughter or husband/son again,” says Sue Wilson, Director of Care at Magnolia Gardens Care Centre. “It’s the opportunity to travel, take time away, relax and recuperate knowing  your loved one is well cared for and safe.”

The hardest conversations are often the ones you have with your ageing parent. Bringing up the need for change in living situation, or in caregiving, patterns can create tension and anxiety for seniors and adult children too!  In her career as an RN working with seniors, Tanya Snow, Director of Bria Communities has coached many adult children on how to have difficult conversations with parents.

“Older adults always say they don’t want to be a burden to their children,” she says, “so if you’re feeling burdened you need to tell the brutal truth.” She is quick to note that the importance of letting seniors decide in their own time, and recommends looking for subtle ways to nudge your parents towards alternatives. “Subscribe to a seniors’ living magazine and leave it lying around the house,” she suggests. “Make sure to investigate what services are offered by seniors resource centres in your community; you’re not the only one wrestling with this issue.”

Providing the best care for your loved one requires taking steps to care for yourself. When caregiver fatigue is knocking on your door, it’s essential to have courageous conversations with the people that count.

*StatsCan 2012 Report: Caregiving; What are the Consequences.

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