Understanding the caregiver journey
Providing essential help for a loved one in need can be very enjoyable and gratifying, but it can also cause stress and exhaustion. While your love for an aging parent might be unlimited, your time is not, especially when you are continually adjusting the work-life balance.
Each caregiver goes through a series of stages on their unique and challenging journey and depending on where you are can determine the amount of help you need to care for your loved ones.
Understanding where you are in your journey can better help you provide care, keep up with what is happening now, and prepare for what is to come. When an aging adult is suffering from memory loss diagnosis likes dementia, dividing your time between caring for them, along with managing your job, providing for yourself and your family, can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help manage change.
As a loved one ages, they may require more of your time and care. Noticing changes in their routine or behavior, like small memory problems or forgetfulness, are usually some of the first signs. You may be asking yourself if the observable signs are part of the normal aging process or if there is a problem. You may begin to experience small challenges like:
- Needing to leave work early to assist your loved one,
- Feeling stretched for time during your day or
- Tension or strain in your professional and personal relationships.
This is the beginning of your caregiving journey. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to discuss your concerns or conduct research. Creating a support system between work and home might help you to better manage your time while monitoring and caring for your loved one’s symptoms.
As your loved one’s needs increase, you will find yourself adjusting your normal routine at work and home to accommodate more caregiving duties. You may find yourself questioning your abilities to manage your professional life, alongside the caregiving needs of your loved one. Candid discussions with a doctor regarding clinical diagnoses, including the possibility of dementia or Alzheimer’s may be a beneficial step, in addition to finding a balance between caregiving, job responsibilities and your health.
It becomes easy to ignore your own needs and responsibilities to care for your loved one. Remember to involve your family or trusted friends in the care process while seeking guidance on the next steps in your loved one’s care.
If your loved one had been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is likely that you are shifting your priorities to focus on caregiving. You may be taking off work, working from home or finding other ways to visit your loved one more often. Finding time to take care of yourself and your family becomes difficult as more of your time is dedicated to fulfilling your role as caregiver.
As the stress of caregiving on top of your normal activities increases, consider asking for help from family members or hire home care service to help while you’re at work. Now is also the time to help your loved one manage finances to help pay for the increased need for hired caregiving services.
An older adult with dementia or Alzheimer’s may struggle increasingly with daily tasks, communication and even their safety. If you consistently provide daily care for your loved one, all of your available free time is likely devoted to caregiving. You may begin to question your ability to handle the level of care your loved one needs. If possible, taking time off or a leave of absence from work may be beneficial by allowing focused time to develop a more balanced caregiving plan.
It is very common to experience caregiver burnout, feeling depressed, isolated, exhausted and neglecting your own mental and physical health; a good caregiving shared-responsibility plan can help lessen or eliminate caregiver burnout. Look into training for basic medical care, start researching information about memory care communities, and above all, make your health a priority.
Eventually, your loved one requires 24-hour care. If your professional life provides, moving a loved one into your house allows you to care for them, while managing your responsibilities. Memory care communities are another option for continued quality of life, with close access to medical care and assistance with everyday tasks. It is essential for you to evaluate what is best for you and your loved one to ensure you both live healthy lives while managing your career and personal life. Ensuring that your loved one is in the best fit community for their needs restores balance in your life, allowing you to enjoy your loved one while making sure that their clinical and daily enrichment is achieved. Your community choice should result in your loved one thriving and not just surviving.
Understanding what phase of the caregiving journey you are in, will help you identify stress points, including:
- Earlier identification of caregiver burnout,
- Understanding the caregiving cost curve, and
- Access to proper support and resources to provide the best possible care.
Alleviating or reducing these stressors may allow the caregiver to resume some normalcy in the work-life balance and allow the primary caregiver to return to the former role of cherished family member building lasting life memories.
To determine what phase of the caregiver journey you are in, we have created an integrated Caregiver Journey Assessment, detailing the five distinct phases and what can be expected during each stage.