Nursing is my passion. I began to work as a professional caregiver 35 years ago. If I had to make a career choice today, I would still choose to become a nurse. Yet nursing school could not have prepared me for the challenge of caring for a family member. Being a professional caregiver differs from being a “lay” caregiver for a family member. As a nurse, you know not to become too involved with your patient—not to cross that invisible line.
As a caregiver for a family member, though, you are totally involved at all levels—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes financially. This total involvement can lead to a feeling of being unbalanced and, eventually, to burnout.
Caring for a family member can alter the relationship between you and your loved one. This is especially true if you’re caring for a parent, as I am. I find it difficult to perform my elderly mother’s activities of daily living, especially seeing her nude, taking care of her bowel and bladder accidents, and dressing and feeding her.
The biggest challenge is to develop strategies that can assist in the process. Every caregiver’s situation is slightly different. Here are some techniques that have helped me face many dilemmas:
- Get rid of the guilt. Feeling guilty can make you emotionally and physically ineffective. It’s common for caregivers to feel anxious and depressed. Tell yourself that guilt is self-defeating and can’t help you. Make a conscious decision not to give in to it. Discuss the guilt with the person you’re caring for, if appropriate. Getting counseling can help, too, as can examining your inner self.
- Develop a plan. All caregivers must have a plan—and as a nurse, you’re well aware of the importance of a care plan. The plan should include input from the person you’re caring for and should cover both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals include the daily activities that you will perform; if possible, include a time line for these goals, but keep it flexible. Long-term goals should include desired outcomes, projected duration of the person’s recovery, and what will happen to the loved one if you become ill. The plan also should address your own finances, the physical and mental strains of the caregiving role, and the possible need to place your loved one in a long-term care facility (including how to choose the best facility).
- Get help from other family members. If possible, call a family meeting when you first take on the caregiver role. During the meeting, each family member should be assigned a task, a time to perform the task, and a date for completion. If a family member can’t contribute time, perhaps he or she can contribute money to obtain a paid sitter.
- Keep laughter in your day. Every day is a challenge when you’re caring for an ill family member. Days begin early and end late. But laughter is a great stress buster, and you can use it therapeutically. A merry heart can make a difficult day more bearable. The ability to laugh at yourself and with the one you’re caring for is healthy. Encourage your loved one to laugh with you.
- Join a support group. A caregiver support group is essential. Being in a group allows you to discuss personal problems in an open, caring environment. A support group offers the gift of listening to you, which in turn helps you to unwind and reduce stress. As a nurse, you’re probably familiar with how group sessions are conducted.
- Get spiritually involved. Research shows that for many people, spirituality promotes healing. Listening to spiritual music and reading spiritual references have helped caregivers through difficult times.
Ruth Sanders is a clinical nurse at Riley My Choice Medical Clinic in Meridian, Mississippi. She is the author of My Parent: My Child, published in 2007 by PublishAmerica, Inc.