How to Recognize that You’ve Become a Caregiver

As your relationship with an older loved one changes, and your responsibilities grow, you may realize that you can’t do it all.

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- Posted on Mar 30, 2020

A woman cares for her aging mother.

Subtle changes in your daily activities may be the first cue. You may have found yourself organizing finances for your aging mother or father, and making sure the kitchen is well stocked. Or you’ve had to step in on bigger challenges, like fielding robocalls and negotiating limits. Caregiving is a role that can sneak up on you, but once you’ve recognized that it’s happening, it’s a good time to assess your own limits and needs, and to explore the possibility of getting some help.

When a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia—or is simply getting older and needs more care—relationship shifts go with the territory. The changing landscape may be between an aging parent and adult child, between spouses or partners, other family members or even close friends—wherever one person provides care for the other.

“As women, particularly, we expect that we can do it all,” said Liz Barlowe, board president of the Aging Life Care Association and a certified care manager. “We want to help, but then it becomes overwhelming. Caregiving forces you to neglect something. It may be yourself or it could be your job to a certain extent, or it could be your kids, but something usually has to give.” To address the challenges, Barlowe works with caregivers to identify their needs and to facilitate help for them via an array of resources.

Because realizing that you’re a caregiver is the first step toward getting yourself some relief, Barlowe offered a few signposts that you have assumed the role:

You’re taking on more responsibilities

Whether or not your loved one has asked for your help, you find yourself giving it more frequently. When you’re buying groceries or other necessary items online, it’s routine to order things for your parent, as well as yourself. You may have pitched in with your loved one’s household chores or gardening. “As most of us busy women do, we tend to take over and want to do more because it’s quicker and we can manage the situation,” Barlowe said. “Then all of a sudden, you’re in a situation where you’re tapped way over.”

You’re negotiating with your loved one about his or her limits

What your loved can and cannot safely handle has become a topic of conversation and a source of your concern. Limitations can be physical or cognitive—from problems with mobility to making proper judgement calls.

You’re needed with more challenging situations

It can be dangerous if your loved has difficulty managing finances or answers illegal robocalls and gives away personal information. You may have had to manage the online bill payments or make sure there’s a spam detector on the phone.

Your role in the relationship feels different from before

“Our parents typically want to continue to spend time together as the father-daughter or the mother-daughter, rather than with you as housekeeper, financial planner or bather,” Barlowe said. “They still want to be the parent, even when they’re losing their abilities, and it’s important for us to sort of allow them, whenever possible, to be that. It’s hard when you’re the one always providing the assistance.” If mandatory social distancing measures are in place, spending meaningful time with your loved one is at even more of a premium. FaceTiming or Skyping regularly can be a nice way of seeing one another and keeping up contact.

If you’ve recognized that you have become a caregiver and could use some assistance, you may want to consider consulting with an aging life care professional who can give you an assessment of the most cost-effective and appropriate options for your loved one’s care—from hiring someone to run errands to help with facilitating medical care. You could also contact a home care agency directly. Services range from personal and companion care to more skilled home health care.

“We only have so much time in the day,” Barlowe said. “It’s okay not to be an expert at this. We can’t be experts at everything.”

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