Dubbed the “sandwich generation,” those in their mid-30s and 40s are in a unique position. Although sometimes we’d prefer the phrase to refer to an affinity for ham and mustard on rye, it actually alludes to how this group of people is “sandwiched” between two sets of responsibilities: raising young children while simultaneously caring for aging and ill parents.
Caregivers in this position can quickly be worn thin—one minute Suzy has soccer practice and Davy has violin lessons; the next minute Dad has fallen down again or has been forgetting to take his medication. With the mountain of responsibility growing larger each day, caregivers may start to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and alone. This feeling is why it is so vitally important for caregivers to remember to take care of themselves.
As a registered nurse and the leader of Partners in Care, a licensed home care agency affiliated with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, I, along with my colleagues, help family caregivers manage caring for elderly family members, which in turn allows caregivers to take much-needed time for themselves.
We hope these tips and tricks will help you find some ways to take a little time back for yourself this summer. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be healthy enough to take care of your loved ones. It’s OK to put yourself first once in a while, and summer offers the perfect time to refresh.
Accept help: Sometimes it feels like we have to do everything ourselves, especially when it comes to family, but we must remember we cannot do it all alone. Getting help from others is not a sign of weakness and may actually play a vital role in sustaining personal care for your loved one. Write down some specific things people can do, such as picking up prescriptions, dropping off a meal, chauffeuring to a doctor’s appointment, etc. Keep a running list of go-to tasks people can help with so when they offer, you have an answer.
Take a break from caregiving: With warm weather and shorter work hours, summer offers the perfect reason to take some time for yourself. Remember, everyone needs the opportunity and time to recharge, even the most devoted of caregivers. Although formal respite programs like those we offer at Partners in Care are hard to find in some communities, it might be possible to get your family member into an adult daycare program that will be beneficial for your loved one, and provide you with some time to yourself. And, along with my first tip, remember that if someone offers help it is OK to ask if they can stay with your loved one for an hour or two.
Find a community: Again, you are not in this alone. There are many people experiencing the same worries and stresses as you in this situation, and they can offer the opportunity for a support system and sounding board so you don’t feel so isolated. Reach out to other caregivers in your situation, and look for opportunities to give and get support. Recognizing that the work you do is important and that you’re not alone in your situation will help you reap the most positive benefits from your caregiving, which leads to my next tip.
Stay positive: Think actively about the positive aspects of caregiving. If your family member is able to communicate, talking about the things in life you’ve shared can be rewarding for both of you. Take time to look at old photos or videos, chat about people you love or reminisce about trips you’ve taken. Using this time to strengthen your connection to one another can help you feel good about the work you’re doing and give your loved one a chance to express thanks too.
Don’t feel guilty: At the end of the day, know that you are doing all you can as a caregiver and you should never feel guilty. You love and care about the person, and even if the person can’t show it, he or she and everyone around you knows you care. You are a human being and are doing as much as you can.
Jennifer Rajewski is an RN and senior vice president at Partners in Care, an affiliate of The Visiting Nurse Service of New York. VNSNY is the largest not-for-profit home- and community-based health care agency in the United States, providing quality private care services. For more information, please visit www.partnersincareny.org or call 1-888-735-8913.