Being a Family Caregiver is Challenging - Once the Job Ends, the Challenges Don't End
Adult children make up most unpaid family caregivers. Older spouses make up only a small percentage as the job is too difficult. Either way, once the caregiving stops, the emotional and physical impact on the caregiver doesn't end.
For the past thirty years, caregiving has been a family job placing physical and emotional strain on caregivers. Spouses, often the wife, typically become the first caregiver. Today, few older spouses provide much care as this job falls on adult children or professional caregivers. Yet, there are still spouses who have little choice but to become a caregiver as the family doesn't live nearby or cannot be caregivers because of their job and family responsibilities. Not everyone has Long-Term Care Insurance, and health insurance, including Medicare, will not provide long-term health care beyond a minimal amount of skilled services.
Whether an older spouse or family member, caregiving involves a lot of determination and hard work. But when your caregiving journey ends, you'll need to start a new one. Here's what to expect.
Caregiving is often a long process that requires a lot of time and attention. During that time, the caregiver looks out for the care recipient's needs and ensures their safety.
Caregivers need peace of mind. There are ways to get the support you need as a caregiver while performing a mentally and physically exhausting job. Experts say that making time for yourself when you are a caregiver is vital to the caregiver's well-being. Often, there is little time for yourself.
Getting professional caregivers to provide some care, or even some respite care, will ease some of the stress and give the family caregiver the needed time off. Adult day care can also be used in this way to reduce some of the pressure on unpaid family caregivers.
However, once your loved one no longer needs your care, there will be numerous changes to your lifestyle. You'll need time to grow accustomed to life after caregiving. Here's what you can expect after your caregiving responsibilities end.
Grief and Guilt
If the person you cared for has passed away, the fact that they're no longer in this world may give you feelings of grief. Be it your mom or dad or your spouse, you saw them daily, and for them to be gone may make you feel as though you've lost an essential piece of yourself. Loss takes time to process; don't rush yourself through the grieving process so you can recover properly.
If you can no longer be a caregiver, either because their needs became too great or you were no longer physically and emotionally able to provide the care, you may have some level of guilt.
Then - the blame game. You may also experience feelings of self-blame — maybe you keep thinking that you could have done more for them and have failed them. These feelings may be challenging to process, but you must accept them and move forward. Generally, it is not your fault, but dealing with the emotional baggage is not easy.
Recovery From Your Duties
Taking care of a person requires a lot of energy, which may cause you to feel mentally or emotionally drained. When your caregiving duties end, you may still experience feelings of extreme fatigue. You also have to feel exhausted from the constant stress and relieved that you won't have to work so hard. Your recovery may start with a sudden tension release followed by a state of apathy, but remember that this is your body and mind's way of slowly recovering.
A Feeling of Being Lost
Since you have cared for a person for quite some time, you may not know what to do with yourself now. Many adult children (often daughters) leave their job to become caregivers. Their focus on being a caregiver is all-encompassing. Many caregivers fail to care for themselves and ignore their personal physical and mental health.
Some caregivers have difficulty returning to their careers, friends, and family. Older spouses also find that their social life, which was that of a couple, has changed with the loss of a spouse. Often, they already had disconnected from their friends because of the time involved in being a caregiver.
The result can be depression and emptiness, which is hard to deal with daily.
Reconnecting With the World
The recovery process, no matter your age, can take time, but the sooner a former caregiver reconnects to the world, the better off that caregiver can be physically and emotionally. Reconnecting with family and friends, returning to a career (depending on age), or even taking a long vacation can positively impact the recovery process.
Reengaging your social life is also important. Don't dwell on the past but return to life and experience things you missed as a caregiver will benefit you tremendously.
Older caregivers may find that their health has started to decline. Being alone, often for the first time in decades, is a difficult adjustment.
The role of caregiving is challenging and takes a lot of energy. There will be many things to expect after your time of helping is done, but when you know what's coming, preparing yourself will be easier.
What happens when you are older and need care yourself? Being prepared beforehand will make it easier on those you love.
About the Author
Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.
Contributor since September 25th, 2020
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