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Caregiving Chat With Amy Goyer

Get advice on how to take care of yourself while caring for others

3. Go back to basics. Eat well, exercise and prioritize sleep. I'm convinced that sleep deprivation is the biggest enemy of all caregivers. When I'm exhausted I can't cope as well emotionally or physically with the strains of caring for both of my parents. Of course you're crying a lot! Everything is magnified when you're tired.

4. Know that you will never get everything done. Never. You sound like a very busy, hard-working person who I'm sure is trying to get everything right.

Accept that everything will not get checked off the list, so don't make that your goal. It really is OK. Instead, an important goal is to live in the moment. Find ways to enjoy your mother's company. Laugh together once every day. Incorporate fun. Be spontaneous. It's good for you AND your mother.

5. Keep a list of what you have accomplished and the things that go well and that you feel good about. Sometimes it just helps to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can do.

Good luck and stay in touch!

Comment from Kristy: I feel so alone in caregiving for my mom. I can't seem to get my family to help me. How can I build a team? I can't do all this by myself!

Amy Goyer: You are like so many caregivers — out here on our own it seems. I've often felt that way too. But in reality, we all have teams — we just don't think of it that way.

Make a list of all the people who interact with your mom, who provide services and support. And make a list of all the people who support you — who listen to you and help you. Include neighbors, friends, doctors, therapists, anyone who cleans the house, hairstylist, massage therapist, manicurist, mail deliverer … Who do you and your mom interact with on a regular basis that add quality to your lives, or who can help out in a pinch? Once I did this I realized I DO have a team. I just manage it differently when it's family members rather than service providers or health care workers. They are all there to support me and my parents though.

So CREATE your caregiving team and you will not be so alone after all.

Comment from Guest: What if sometimes you hate the person you are caregiving for? My mother is 92 and in a nursing home but I am her power of attorney (POA). She is demanding, mean, just not a nice person at all. No matter how much I give, I receive nothing back. Maybe a thank you now and then.

Amy Goyer: Believe it or not, that is a really common question I get. Not all parents and children have fabulous relationships — it's a really tough issue. When those we are caring for are cranky, or downright nasty, the first thing to do is make sure it is not being caused by a health issue. For example, those with Alzheimer's can't often explain that they are in pain and simply exhibit behavior problems. Also, anyone in chronic pain becomes irritable, short-tempered and unhappy over time. But I also always say, as we age, we only get more so ... in other words, who we are becomes magnified. If your Mom was always difficult, she may get more difficult as she ages — this isn't always true but it happens often. So the bottom line is — if that's your Mom's personality, you can't change her. You don't have control of her, and you will just deplete yourself trying to do so. It's a never-ending battle to try to elicit something from someone who can't give it. So the best thing to do is address what you CAN control. If you try to get the reinforcement from your mom, you will constantly feel stressed out, sad, resentful and discouraged. Instead, the reinforcement for what you are doing needs to come internally — from yourself.

Try to feel good that you are caregiving for your mom because you believe it's the right thing to do. Make that your goal — not so much getting a lot back from your mom. Then if you DO get a thank you, it will be the icing on the cake.

Comment from Grace: I want to take care of myself, but I just don't feel like I have time. I'm so busy between work and family ... there just aren't enough hours in the day. Any tips?

Amy Goyer: Grace, I know how you feel! It's constantly juggling and keeping all the balls in the air and there just isn't enough time, right? I've found that if I look at it that way, there really won't be enough time. If I put the "taking care of myself" items at the bottom of my list — after I've taken care of everyone else — they simply won't get done. Ever.

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Video Extra

CAREGIVING RESOURCES: AARP Chief Executive Officer Barry Rand and AARP Executive Vice President Deb Whitman discuss the experience of caregiving and AARP's resources for caregivers.

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