Caregiving can have many rewards, like a sense of purpose and fulfillment, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. On any given day, your emotions can swing from sadness to guilt to resentment and back again. And that’s on top of all the tasks you do.
No matter how well-organized you are and how well you tend to both yourself and your loved one, you may reach a point where you just need help.
Caregiving isn’t a one-person job. Even if it starts out that way, things can change. A shift in your loved one’s condition may mean new physical demands or medical care that you simply don’t have the strength or skills for. Or, the mental and emotional toll may just become too much.
The earlier you get help, the better. If you wait too long, you risk getting burned out. So it’s useful to know the signs that it’s time for help and where you can turn for it.
Signs You Need Help
You might notice these early warning signs that you’re close to your tipping point and you need help:
- Anxiety level rises
- Feeling depressed
- More and more, you ignore other responsibilities and don’t take time for yourself
- Short temper
- Start to drink, smoke, or eat more
- Tiredness and feeling wiped out
- Trouble sleeping
If you brush off these warnings, you may start to see more concerning signs that mean you’re getting burned out, such as:
- Can’t focus
- Caregiving takes over your life
- Catch colds all the time
- Feeling hopeless and like it will never end
- Hard to relax, even when you get help
- Low energy, even after sleeping or taking a break
- Less interest in your work or career
- No longer seeing friends
Start With a List of Needs
Making a list of needs can ensure that you get the right kind of help. It’s also handy when someone asks what they can do for you. You just break out your list and show them where they can chip in.
When you think about needs, make sure to cover areas like:
- Household: cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and paying bills
- Medical: managing medicines, appointments, and insurance
- Personal: helping your loved one bathe, eat, groom, and go to the bathroom
- Social: someone to keep your loved one company and do activities with
Where to Go for Help
Once you know what kind of help you need, you can focus on how to get it. You may have friends and family who can support you. If not, you might be able to hire someone or find volunteers and caregiver support groups.
Family and friends. Family and friends can take on meals, errands, doctors’ appointments, personal care, and keeping your loved one company -- anything that gives you a break. Try to create a schedule that builds these breaks into your week.
Sometimes, asking is the hardest part. Remember, you know your needs best -- you do this every day. But others don’t, so be honest about what you need. Even siblings or friends who live far away can help with phone calls, bills, paperwork, or check-ins to see that you’re OK.
When you ask for help, you may want to:
- Choose a good time when the person you’re asking isn’t stressed or tired.
- Have one-on-one talks to go over your list of needs.
- Point out where someone can help based on their skills, like maybe your brother’s a great cook.
- Ask if they want to help and how much they want to be involved.
- Be direct and specific in what you ask for: “I need a break on Wednesdays. Can you be here from 1-4 in the afternoon?”
Community services. There may be services right in your community that can help, too. Some may be free or covered by insurance, such as:
- Fraternal organizations. Groups like Elks and Moose lodges sometimes offer phone check-ins, visits, and rides to their members.
- Religious communities. Some have volunteers who can keep your loved one company.
- Support for vets. If your loved one is a veteran, you may be able to get financial help with services such as nursing home care or adult day care.
- Transportation services. Some communities offer free or low-cost rides to doctors’ appointments, adult day care, and other places.
- Support groups. Ask your doctor or your local Area Agency on Aging for information on support groups. They'll be able to point you to groups for spouses, veterans, children, etc.
In-home services. Professional help in your home, like nurse’s aides or home health aides, is another option. They may help with dressing, bathing, feeding, and basic medical care like taking blood pressure.
You can also get physical and occupational therapists, social workers, and nurses to help in your home. You might want to think about other basic services that can come to you, as well, such as dog grooming, hairdressers, and grocery delivery.
Adult day care. This can be a great option for both you and your loved one. You get a regular break and some peace of mind. Your loved one gets valuable social time and activities outside the house. It’s a win for everyone.
Respite care and residential programs. Sometimes, you might need more than a few hours. Maybe you need a night or more. Group homes, hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities sometimes offer overnight care, whether it’s an emergency or something you plan.
Nursing homes. At some point, your loved one may need care around the clock. That time may come sooner than you think. It’s not that you failed in any way, it’s that the disease or disability may reach a point where the best thing is no longer care at home.