Caring for the Caregiver

Woman caring for a senior family member - caregivers need support

Caring for the Caregiver

By Greg Robertson, CFSP

As a licensed Funeral Director caregiver stress, and even burnout, is often evident in a family member sitting across from me at the arrangement desk. This is especially true when a family has a loved one in home hospice care, and they are making prearrangements. Perhaps this article will stimulate some thoughts to help assuage the stress and encourage the reader to share the load, love, and responsibility.

Caregiving for an elderly or disabled family member is a demanding job. If you are emotionally and physically exhausted, or even overwhelmed by the daily work of caregiving, your patience and compassion can wear thin. It becomes harder to connect with the person you’re caring for, and you may both feel some emotional tension. Most of us find long term caregiving overwhelming and respite care can provide us with a needed break. Seeking support and maintaining your own health are key to managing your role as a caregiver. It is not selfish to need time to yourself. There’s nothing abnormal about needing a break. We all need some time to ourselves to look forward to. Taking time off to recuperate is vital to your health and well-being. After a break to recharge your batteries, you’ll feel more energetic and prepared to continue in your caregiving role. Your caregiving journey will be a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for both you and the loved one in your care.

Respite care provides temporary relief for a primary caregiver. It enables you to take a much-needed break from the demands of the caregiving of a sick, aging, or disabled family member. Respite care can take place in your own home, at day-care centers, or at residential or nursing facilities that offer overnight stays. Whether it’s for just a few hours, a week, or an extended vacation, seeking respite care can help ease the burden of family caregiving and help to relieve stress, restore your energy, and promote balance in your life. It can also prevent you from becoming exhausted, isolated, or even burned out. Respite care can also benefit the person you’re caring for, providing them with variety or company, emotional stimulation, and a welcome change of routine.

When you’re the primary, long-term caregiver for a close family member, handing over the responsibility for their care can be difficult. You may feel that your daily caregiving routine is difficult to explain to another person or that taking time off will only create more problems when you return. You may think that it’s easier to just tough it out and do everything yourself. You may even feel that it’s wrong of you to ever feel tired of caring for someone you love. Perhaps you’re simply worried that the person taking over will not do a good enough job caring for your loved one. These are all common concerns and reasons for avoiding respite care but it’s important to remember that respite care is also an integral part of the caregiving process. Not just for you, but also the person you’re caring for and the rest of your family.

Family members and friends may be able to help while you run an errand or take a break. However, just as the burden of caregiving is often more than one person can handle, it can also be a tough process for families to share. Even the healthiest families can be severely stressed by ongoing care, and sharing the care is frequently lopsided. A way to encourage support and help is to talk openly and regularly. Keep your family up to date on your loved one’s needs and condition. Family members who don’t share the day-to-day caregiving experience may not fully appreciate the demands and stresses involved. It is also helpful to ask family members to think about what they can reasonably and honestly do to help in the caring.

Even if you know that you’re the best possible person to care for your loved one, it’s OK to accept that no one else will offer the same level of love as you. So, find a good family member or friend to help out when you need some time to yourself.

Remember. There is no reason not to seek respite care. You will be refreshed and, if nothing else, your loved one will appreciate you even more when you return from your break. Having time apart can help refresh and rejuvenate your relationship.

Greg Robertson can be reached at