5 Ways to Avoid Becoming Isolated as a Caregiver

Detaching from others can take a serious emotional toll on caregivers, so it's key to stay connected.

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- Posted on Feb 10, 2020

Three friends having coffee together in a cafe.

This article is based on information provided by Philips Lifeline.

It begins when we turn down an invitation to something we want to do, or pass on a favorite social activity. Our loved one always comes first, and we tell ourselves that means staying home—time and again. Before we know it, disconnecting from others has become a way of life for us as caregivers. Isolation begins to feel so familiar that even running to the post office can seem like too much to handle.

Venturing outside the home can gradually become a thing of the past as our older mother or father grows more dependent on us. Because our loved one matters so much to us, it is easy to let our own emotional well-being fall by the wayside, even if that means avoiding healthy activities that allow us to stay in touch with other people we enjoy being around. This can lead to loneliness, and social isolation, which take a serious emotional toll, not least of which may include caregiver burnout. But these consequences can be prevented by maintaining a strong social life and finding various types of support.

According to the National Family Caregivers Association, 91 percent of caregivers say they are concerned about their own mental and emotional health, and many of these caregivers report feelings of isolation and loneliness due to their duties at home. To prevent these potential pitfalls, you may want to consider the following suggestions to strengthen your social support system and remain connected:

1. Reach out for a hand. It's difficult to do, but when you ask others to help you out, it can have a positive impact on your well-being and that of your loved one. When friends or family members take over specific tasks, you can take some time to breathe. It also allows people in your personal support network to feel they are doing something to assist you. Trusted helpers around the house can get things done, give you respite from caregiving, and allow you to interact in a healthy way. If you don’t have family or family nearby, ask friends, neighbors, or members of support or social groups you're a part of.

2. Stay Connected. Caregiving can quickly demand all of your time, and friendships often get neglected as a result. Schedule time to phone or see friends on a regular basis to keep up with relationships and create a stronger support network. If you're short on time, exchange brief emails or texts to maintain contact.

3. Participate in a Support Group. When you think you’re the only person in the world who feels like you do, it can be life changing to find a room full of people who understand. Face-to-face caregiver support groups are ideal. You can also check out the numerous online support groups that allow you to talk with other caregivers online 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Online support is great for caregivers who have homebound loved ones and not much additional support.

4. Schedule Respite Care. Although family and friends can offer relief when they are able, many faith-based and community service groups provide these services on a more formal basis. Schedule respite care regularly to give yourself time for a walk in nature, dinner with friends, an art class, or even a doctor’s appointment of your own. If it’s feasible, consider adult day care one or more days a week. These facilities provide a safe and engaging environment for your aging parent so you can take these breaks with far less anxiety.   

5. Seek professional help. If your feelings of isolation are chronic or acute, or if you feel hopeless or anxious, you need and deserve professional attention. Call a support line or your doctor for a referral to a mental health expert who can guide you to work through these feelings.

Creating the proper caregiver support network gives us the respite, valuable assistance and peace of mind we require to take charge of our own emotional health and the health of our older loved ones.

Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be suffering from a healthcare condition.

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