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Finding Balance in Caregiving

According to a 2009 study by the National Alliance of Caregivers and AARP on Caregiving in the US, there are at least 43.5 million caregivers age 18 and over, equivalent to 19% of all adults, who provide unpaid care to an adult family member or friend who is age 50 years or older. About two-thirds of these caregivers also work outside the home. Let’s call them “working caregivers” even though we acknowledge that all caregivers are working. Working caregivers face unique demands of trying to juggle between their job responsibilities, providing care for their elderly family member or friend, maintaining their own household responsibilities, and trying to take care of themselves. Not surprisingly, the study revealed these working caregivers are more likely to seek help in finding a balance between their outside job, the responsibilities of caregiving, and finding personal time to attend to their own needs and desires.

How can working caregivers accomplish so much in one day? Are they forced to cut corners and feel the negative consequences of such choices? Making deliberate choices where you can understand and manage the consequences can help you achieve satisfaction in all of your roles. It is much more demanding than reaching work-life balance. It becomes a three level balancing act between caregiving-working-supporting your personal life.

The first step is to assess the demands you face in your caregiving role. Once you quantify the tasks of caregiving you may be able to find ways to delegate some of the duties to other family members or friends. Don’t lose heart if other family members live far away and friends are not available. There are organizations in our local community such as Golden Umbrella and Mountain Caregiver Resource Center which provide an array of family caregiver support. Take pride in your abilities to enlist support rather than feel guilty that you can’t do it all by yourself.

While you are listing the tasks of caregiving, assign a weight for each task so that you can better understand its priority. High priority items such as medications, keeping appointments with the doctor, preparing nutritional meals and maintaining good hygiene can be systematized by good organization and record keeping. You will actually save time by keeping records and an appointment calendar in a convenient, accessible location. On the other hand, does it really matter if the carpet is not freshly vacuumed and the book shelf is dusty?  

Coping with the demands of the workplace require similar strategies. Assessing, prioritizing and organizing your job tasks are essential to any job. Cultures vary from one company to the next, and employees need to figure out how much they can share the details of their personal life with their boss. Some family friendly workplaces allow flexible schedules, such as starting later, leaving early or taking time off during the day to provide care. In other situations, employees may be discouraged from revealing too much for fear they will lose a promotion opportunity or land on the short list of candidates for lay-offs. Larger employers are likely to have an Employee Assistance Program which provides resources to help situations outside of the work place. Co-workers who have juggled caregiving and work roles may be able to help you with strategies that have worked for them.

Finally, don’t neglect yourself. Just as you have scheduled an appointment with the doctor, or a meeting at work, make a commitment to a time when you can do something that recharges your batteries. It may be just a few minutes in a day where you can catch up on emails from friends, relax with a good book or take a walk. Ask for help to get away for longer stretches of time to go to the movies, shopping or out to a restaurant. If you can afford it, hire a caregiver or use respite services of an assisted living facility to get away for a few days. Finding time to take care of yourself will not only feel good, it will help you better succeed in your caregiving and working roles.

dementiadvice is written by Mary Burger, owner of A Brand New Day, a full-spectrum memory care community located in Redding CA.


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