For Those New to Caregiving

A few days ago, a friend asked me to jot down thoughts I’d like to share with a newbie caregiver–someone thrust into caregiving that could be intense or extended, but was not restricted to caregiving for a dementia patient.

Here it is; if it seems useful to you, share the link with others. And I’d love to receive comments …(ETA: The PDF version is available here.)

Tips For Those New to Caregiving

By Swapna Kishore

Fifteen years ago, my father collapsed while getting up from a chair. A few hours later, instead of editing a document I had to submit to a client, I was trying to figure out how to look after someone bed-ridden thanks to a hip fracture. I assumed then that the situation was temporary, but as days, weeks, and months went by, my life kept changing to accommodate caregiving–first for my father, who never quite recovered, and then for my mother, who has dementia.

My caregiving journey is dotted with successes and failures, days of fulfillment and days of frustration. I’ve been sharing my experiences through my blog and website, and in support group meetings.  Some days ago, a friend asked me to jot down suggestions for people newly thrust into the role of caregiving. Here is what I think…

Most of us have very little idea of the intensity involved in extended caregiving. We may have looked after someone with a fever, or spent a week or so supporting someone recovering from a surgery, but that is quite different from caring for a person suffering from a serious or disabling condition such as late-stage cancer, cerebral palsy, dementia, or organ failure. We may not have imagined ourselves (given our gender/ qualification/ skills/ good luck) as persons who may need to provide such care.
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Pacing for effective caregiving

One of the dilemmas I face is how to care without feeling burnout.

What my mother wants is that I sit near her all day, holding her hand. I cannot do it. I could do it for a day or two, maybe a week or two tops. But not month after month.  Not an year, two years, three. And burning out or getting resentful won’t help, because I’ll end up giving up just when her need for me goes up.
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the pacing chosen for caregiving–sprint, long-distance, marathon

The work of caregiving is unending. You can always think of one more thing to make the patient happier/ better/ content.  Perfect caregiving is not an achievable goal, especially for patients suffering from a progressively degenerative, incurable problem like dementia. After all, the patient’s well-being is not merely dependent on care given.

So, how can we pace caregiving–as a sprint, a long distance race, or a marathon?

When I started caregiving, lots of people gave me advice on what else I should do. They told me what I should feed her (including lots of elaborate recipes), how much time I should spend with her (all), how I should take her for outings (as often as possible), and so on. Implementing their suggestions would take 24 hours a day, and I’d be forced to cut out mundane stuff like bathing her and keeping her clean, paying her bills, filing her tax returns, or tracking her medical checkups and doctor visits.
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beyond acceptance in caregiving–the journey through unknown territories

When I was twelve, a palm-reader told me most authoritatively that I would travel extensively through unknown lands after I crossed the age of forty. I believed him, especially when an expert astrologer said much the same thing based on my janampatri (birth-chart). Then, at forty, when I should have been planning my world tours, I got drawn into caregiving, and I said, well, so much so for all those predictions 🙂

Looking back, though, caregiving has been a journey through unknown lands, albeit of the internal kind and not quite the sort I expected. Like any adventure, it has involved unexpected situations and needed creativity and improvisations, and below I am sharing some of the landscapes I have viewed…

The landscape of parents, seen as a fellow-adult -Too many of my friends and colleagues stay ambivalent in their attitude towards their parents. Some dislike them, even hate them, and never get the time (or energy or will) to resolve this in time–it rankles inside them for years, and sometimes becomes a core that is so heavily shielded they don’t venture anywhere near it.  They react to their parents as if they were still children being imposed on, and move away physically/ emotionally as soon as possible, staying distant. The discomfort is palpable.
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