Answering questions live on air is one of my favorite things to do as a media spokesperson. I usually hear from caregivers, but when I appeared recently on the AARP Live show on RFD-TV, one caller was the recipient of a family member's caregiving. Darlene from Iowa said she went to work one day, slipped and broke her hip. Now she feels guilty about receiving care from her daughter, who lives two hours away. My advice to Darlene? Ditch the guilt, and go for grateful.
I'm glad that Darlene contributed this important perspective. I often talk to family caregivers who say their job is much harder because their loved ones are resistant to care. This is usually because the care recipient doesn't see the need for care, doesn't want to lose independence, has cognitive impairment (such as dementia) or, like Darlene, feels guilty about needing help — they say they don't want to be a burden to their family.
Such feelings are perfectly normal and understandable. (I tell caregivers to think about how they would feel right now, today, if suddenly they couldn't be fully independent.)
But care recipients need to remember that when they feel negatively toward their care and support, sometimes fighting it, they make it much harder for their family caregivers. If they instead try to be gracious and grateful about receiving care, it will make them less likely to feel like a burden to their loved ones, who will surely appreciate their efforts.
I have been lucky in this regard. My parents have always been so pleased and cooperative with any help my sisters and I are able to give, with a few exceptions: Dad was angry when we wanted him to stop driving, and Mom hated doing her exercises. But they both came around and did their best. Even with dementia, Dad frequently says "thank you."
When I cared for my ill sister, however, she fought so hard for her independence that she sometimes resisted my help. I understood her reluctance, but I wish she'd been more willing to receive support.
My advice to Darlene was to keep in mind that she presumably once took care of her daughter, and now it's her daughter's turn to provide support. She's lucky to have a daughter who is willing to help her, so allow her to do so.
Here are a few more tips for anyone who is receiving (or will eventually receive) care from a family member:
- Be prepared. Nearly all of us will need care at some point in our lives. So take the time to have all of your legal documents in place, communicated to loved ones and easily accessible. Include advance directives (powers of attorney, your wishes for care and end-of-life directives), medical history, medication and doctor lists, hospital preferences, etc.
- Make your caregiver's job as easy as you can. Be clear that your goal is to be as independent as possible and still be safe while knowing your limitations. Act as a willing care recipient without being overly demanding.
- Make the most of visits. When long-distance caregivers come to help, be realistic and prepared with a short list of to-do items you need help with. Think of other things they can do from a distance, and prioritize the "needs" from the "wants."
- Don't blame the caregiver. We can all be grumpy, sad, fearful and oversensitive when we are in pain or facing a loss of independence in some form. Often those emotions get displaced and directed at our caregivers, which is unfair. Be aware of your emotions, and process them in healthier ways — perhaps through counseling, journaling or talking with understanding friends. When crankiness does happen, remember that a simple apology can go a long way.
- Find ways to give back. Just because you need some care and support, it doesn't mean you can't help others. Maybe you can volunteer to write letters to deployed service members, call to check up on a friend, sort mail for family members or simply pray for people. Your life will feel more balanced.
- Encourage care for the caregivers, too. Make sure your loved ones are taking time to fill their own tanks so they have the energy to take care of you. That can include fun times together, too — never underestimate the power of a good laugh!
- Show appreciation. Brag about what a wonderful caregiver you have. Thank them, send a card or flowers, or give them a gift card (you can buy them easily online and have them mailed or emailed).
Above all, try not to feel guilty about receiving care. Remember that there can be a great deal of joy in both giving and receiving. It can bring family members closer together. And if we were all only givers, there would be no one to give to! Someone has to be the receiver; it's just your turn right now.