When Caregiving Turns into Self Neglect

Q. I am concerned about my mother, Sharon. She is a caregiver for my 92-year-old grandmother, who lives with her and my father, who is not in the best of health himself. I saw my mother the other day when I stopped by for a visit. She looks emaciated and sleep deprived, and her personal hygiene is taking a toll. I feel bad saying this, but I stopped calling her because when I do, she complains a lot. I know how devoted she is as a caregiver and daughter, but I think it is affecting her own health. I’m going over there with my husband and children for Mother’s Day on Sunday. What advice can I give her, or what do you suggest I can do to help her?

A. Happy Mother’s Day to you, your mother, and your grandmother!

As a parent, you know that caring for a loved one certainly has its rewards. For those who are caregivers, it’s a way to give back to a loved one who perhaps once cared for you.

Besides being rewarding, caregiving also involves great sacrifices that can have an effect on your time, money, and even your personal health. Sometimes, caregivers can be so devoted that they forget to think about their own needs, without realizing that if you neglect your own physical, mental, and financial well-being, you may become unable to continue caring for your loved one. And, as you can imagine, that benefits no one. So, what can you do to help someone in this situation?

The Physical Strains of Caregivers

A recent Next Avenue article quotes Rick Lauber, author of the book, The Successful Caregiver’s Guide, saying “Can a vehicle continue to run without regular fill-ups and service? No!” According to Lauber, “Caregivers are no different. Caregivers helping and supporting aging loved ones routinely give too much of themselves while overlooking their own health and wellness.”

The article discusses how caregivers who are overdoing it tend to get reduced sleep, muscular aches from the physical demands of caregiving, and often neglect their personal nutritional needs.

The Importance of Self Care

Your own health can suffer when you are struggling with caring for yourself, and caring for a loved one.

Practicing self-care isn’t always easy and “me-time” is often last on the agenda for devoted and busy caregivers. Often, caregivers feel guilty about taking the time required to take care of themselves. Although getting started with self-care can be challenging, it is very important for your mother to find time and make space for it.

Caregivers need to put self-care — such as exercising or meditation — on their list and treat it like any other important appointment. And, if your mother is coming to the end of her rope with caregiving, she needs to get help or make other arrangements.

The Best Gift You Can Give Your Mother

The best gift you can give your mother is some respite time, or someone to help her out, so she can take care of her own needs. Once she has assistance and a little time to spare, here are some self-care tips you can suggest to her:

Get enough good sleep: Sleep can have a huge effect on how someone feels both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough good sleep can cause major health issues. But stress and other distractions can wreak havoc on our sleep. For optimal, uninterrupted sleep, help make sure your mother’s bedroom is the best possible place for her to get some rest. It should be free of distractions (such as a television, laptop, cellphone, etc.). Room-darkening curtains to keep the sun from waking her up too early in the mornings can also be helpful.

Create a space for your mother: Convince your mother to find a room, a corner, or a space that is just for her. She can use this space as an escape for whatever she may enjoy doing or just for relaxing for a few minutes. She can set out books, artwork, yarn, or puzzles or whatever she desires so these things are ready when she can take some time for herself. For extra relaxation, she can add a few personal touches that will relax her just by looking at them (a few photos or scented candles, for example).

Give her a day off: The best gift you can give your mother is a day off, so she can take the time to go out to dinner, see a movie, spend time with friends or get a pedicure.

Encourage exercise and a good balanced diet: Exercise reduces stress and depression and helps keep you fit, while a good, balanced diet with smart food choices protect you from heart disease, bone loss, and high blood pressure.

Encourage “mindful moments”: Your mother can ease her mood simply by taking slow, deep breaths, listening to soothing music, or taking a relaxing bath.

Make sure she sees her doctor for regular checkups: Your mother may take your grandmother and/or your father to doctor’s appointment regularly. She should also be sure to keep up with her own visits. When she sees her doctor, she should be sure to mention that she is a caregiver, and describe any symptoms of depression or sickness she may have.

Help research caregiving resources in the community that can help: Most communities have adult daycare services or respite services to give primary caregivers a break from their caregiving duties. Do some research and suggest she use these available resources.

Urge her to ask for and accept help: Sit down with your mother and make a list of ways others can help her. Help her contact those listed and see if and where they could help out.

Suggest that she join a support group for caregivers: It is often helpful to find a general caregiver support group or a group with caregivers who care for someone with the same illness or disability as your grandmother. Your mother can share stories, pick up caregiving tips, and get support from others who face the same challenges as she does.

Treat herself: Does your mother ever buy herself chocolates or chocolate-covered strawberries? Probably not. Perhaps she really wants that Kate Spade purse she saw online. Suggest that your mother treat herself once in a while, or better yet, treat her! Especially with Mother’s Day this weekend!

Remind her why she is helping her mother: Remind her that she is doing this not solely out of obligation. Focusing on the love she holds for your grandmother can help dial back stress when things become frustrating and overwhelming.

Research suggests that a caregiver’s immune function is often suppressed by the stress of caring for others. Hopefully, your mother will boost her resistance by eating well, getting enough rest and exercise, and pursuing activities that bring her pleasure. With any luck, you can convince her to take advantage of regular respite care from professionals, family, and friends to give her much needed breaks.

When She Can No Longer Provide the Care Needed

As a caregiver, your mother should periodically reassess what she can offer and what assistance she needs. If it’s getting too hard to fulfill certain needs, she can ask family members for help or consider other options, such as hiring paid caregivers to take on these tasks. If necessary, she may need to consider or at least plan for another living arrangement that would help you meet her needs and those of your grandmother.

Nursing homes in the Metro DC area cost $12,000-$14,000 a month, which can be catastrophic for most families. Do you have a loved one who is in a nursing home or nearing the need for nursing home care? Or are you simply looking to plan ahead in the event nursing home care is needed in the future? Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting your assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into a nursing home, while also helping ensure that you or your loved one get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. Please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation.

Elder Law Fairfax: 703-691-1888
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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.