One of the most frequent topics that come up for my clients is the issue of caregiving. This is a role that may fall to any member of the family but usually seems to fall into our laps. A large number of older women end up providing direct care for loved ones, usually parents and spouses, who develop dementia and other serious illnesses. While the circumstances of a loved one’s illness may arise at any stage in a woman’s life, these events typically occur during our older years.
The period of time in which your loved one requires care can be fairly short (perhaps a few months) but is often much longer, even stretching to several years. Depending on the level of care required, many of you know all too well the realities of caregiver stress and the frustration of having to put one’s own life on hold to provide for the needs of the ill person.
Alternatively, you may have been the one needing or requiring intensive care for a period of time; being ill or badly injured and needing assistance is an extremely stressful time for everyone involved. Certainly, this can be a stressful time for your partner, children and whoever else may be providing that care. People who are single, widowed or divorced face an even more difficult challenge in meeting those care-receiving needs. Ultimately it is very likely that we will be faced with one or both of those roles during our lifetime. While the hardships are self-evident, the “solutions” are not.
The focus of this discussion will be on coping and solutions. Naming the problems and having people who can and do listen to you share the hardships and painful emotions are very important in helping someone navigate the caregiving or care-receiving experience. What is even more valuable and less often available is support from a group of people sharing what has worked for them in navigating this difficult waters and how to get to the other side of the river alive and intact. Some questions to think about and discuss around coping and “solutions”:
- If you have been (or are) in a caregiving role, have you found any coping strategies that help you keep your life, your sense of humor and your sanity?
- Are there any things that those receiving care can do to help their caregivers sustain their energy and positive attitude around caregiving?
- What have your experiences been as a care-receiver?
- Which role do you think is or would be harder for you?
- If you have been a long-term caregiver, what has helped you move beyond that experience to re-embrace your life?