Different situations pose different challenges. Here is some specific advice for you.
Caring for Someone Who Lives With You
Catch a break, already. It’s true that most caregivers tend to be overworked, but the 24/7 schedule of being a live-in caregiver can put you at a particularly high risk for burnout, says Marion Somers, Ph.D., the author of Elder Care Made Easier and the former director of Hunter College’s Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging, in New York City.
If your friends or family can’t commit to giving you time off every week, ask your local Area Agency on Aging about community resources, like adult day care, says Somers. Or hire a personal-care assistant, who is typically not a medical professional but someone who has experience with caregiving. Rates run around $10 to $25 an hour; you can find candidates through community senior and aging organizations. (You’ll also find resources for hiring in-home help by clicking on your state in the Family Care Navigator at caregiver.org.) If money is tight, ask local colleges that offer degrees in eldercare and nursing about interns.
In a perfect world, you would go on a one-week vacation every six months while another family member took your place. But if you can’t, “you should still do something that makes you feel good every single day, even if it’s only for 10 to 20 minutes,” says Brian D. Carpenter, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and an eldercare expert at Washington University, in St. Louis. “Bringing old routines and familiar pleasures to your new life can serve as a daily reprieve.”
Caring for Someone Who Lives Nearby
Set a schedule. Not living with the person you’re caring for creates its own kind of chaos. “It’s easy to get caught in a trap, feeling like you have to run over for every little thing,” says seasoned caregiver Sheila Warnock. To avoid commuting- and errand-induced fatigue, decide which days of the week you’ll visit. Then, barring emergencies, stick to that schedule, so both you and your loved one have clear expectations. (Again, it helps to ask others to handle errands such as delivering food.)
Caring for Someone Who Lives Far Away
Remember who’s in charge. (hint: it’s not you.) As a long-distance caregiver, you obviously don’t have control over your loved one’s day-to-day issues. (Is your mother really taking her pills? Are her home-health aides showing up when they’re supposed to?) So accept that fact and defer to the primary caregiver.
"My mother is in her 90s and lives in Wisconsin," says Gregory Johnson, a senior adviser for family caregiving at EmblemHealth, an insurance company based in New York state. "To help cope with the distance, I put a note by both of my phones that says, "Kathy [my sister] is the primary caregiver." I can offer input and support, but when it comes to final decisions, I defer to her." (You can also download the National Alliance for Caregiving’s Handbook for Long-Distance Caregivers at caregiver.org.)