Your Caregiving Questions Answered: The Emotional Side of Providing Care

AARP expert and clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs offers guidance

Below are answers from Barry J. Jacobs, a member of the AARP Caregiving Advisory Panel, to questions submitted by visitors to the Caregiving Resource Center. This page will continue to be updated with new questions and answers. Have a query or conundrum? Ask the AARP Caregiving Advisory Panel.

Q: I am the primary caregiver for my mom. How do I get my family and my siblings to understand that their lack of involvement is putting a great deal of weight and stress on me? I'm depressed and don't have time for myself. What can I do?

A: In the vast majority of caregiving families, unfortunately, the brunt of the caregiving falls on one dedicated person's shoulders. That doesn't mean, however, that the arrangement is fair or ultimately effective. Too much stress over too much time will lead the primary caregiver to burn out and become unable to continue. That will increase the chances that the care recipient eventually will have to go into a nursing home.

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Caregiving for a loved one can be difficult — and intensely rewarding. — Peter Zander/Getty Images

To avoid that situation in your own family, I'd suggest the following steps:

1. Write a letter to those family members whose help you'd like. (In this era of emails and texting, a handwritten letter will come as a surprise and therefore grab their attention.) Tell them how gratifying it has been for you to take care of your mother but also how tired you've become. Ask each family member to take on a small, discrete task for Mom — e.g., driving to the doctor's office, paying for putting handrails in the shower. Be specific; a more general cry for help is easier to ignore.

2. Whenever family members complete tasks, praise them generously. Have Mom give thanks as well. That will increase the likelihood that they'll come through again.

3. In the future, share more information about your mother — and decision-making power — with your family members. If they feel more invested in Mom's condition, then they'll step up on their own to become full-fledged members of your family caregiving team.

Q: I feel guilty when I leave my mother alone, but I'm trying to have a life too. How do I deal with the guilt?

A: Guilt is a cul-de-sac. You go nowhere but round and round in your own torment. It's crucial, instead, to remind yourself that taking the time to have your own life replenishes your energies to better care for your mother. Staying with her constantly would likely have the opposite effect — sapping you slowly to the point that you have little more to give. It's therefore in her best interests that you go out — as well as eat and sleep well and have regular medical checkups — in order for you to be happy, healthy and available for her over the long haul.

Next page: Suggestions for long-distance caregivers. »

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