Coping With Caregiver's Guilt
Coping With Caregiver's Guilt If you care for an elderly parent or relative, you may find there are times when you're bombarded with a mix of emotions and begin feeling guilty.

Caring for an elderly relative can be a wonderful time for both of you to get closer, but it also can become demanding, stressful, unpredictable, painful and exhausting.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, nearly one out of every four households in the United States is involved in caregiving to persons aged 50 or older. When a parent or relative gets older, more dependent and perhaps sick and frail, emotions tend to surface. The hardships caregiving can create will at times produce negative emotions—and it’s common to feel guilty. These suggestions can help you recognize and manage your guilt:

End the cycle

Guilt is born out of negative feelings, such as resentment or anger. You don’t want to resent your parent or relative for needing so much help, but sometimes the demands on your life become so intense that you do. Anger can feed your guilt, which can make you even angrier. Try to recognize this cycle so you can stop it.

Watch for depression

Unrecognized or unresolved anger and guilt can lead to depression. If you feel you have any symptoms of depression—extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness, loss of appetite and sleep disturbance—seek professional help.

Forgive yourself

You may have become angry with your father for forgetting to take his medication. Or, you may have snapped at your elderly mother for something she did, only to find out later that she has dementia. Whatever the situation, it is important to forgive yourself. Emotional outbursts, within reason, can be a normal reaction to the stress of caregiving.

Focus on what you are doing

Feelings of guilt often arise when you think you’re not doing enough for your older parent or relative. But how reasonable are your expectations? Focus on what you already do. Make a list. Include everything—small and large—such as making phone calls, writing letters, arranging doctor appointments or helping with finances. Give yourself credit for the things you do for your parent.

Rely on friends

Ask for help from your close friends. Confide in them about how you feel. Don’t feel guilty about being depressed or sad. Friends can offer humor, support and a sympathetic ear. And studies show that caregivers who have support networks suffer less depression when taking care of the elderly.

Join a support group

Physicians, counselors and social workers all identify support groups as an effective way to help reduce caregiver guilt. Sharing your fears and emotions with others in similar situations can provide great relief. Support groups can lessen your sense of isolation, and the resources and suggestions from group members can make your job easier. To find the right support group, you can call your state department on aging or elder affairs.

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Caring for Elderly Parents: Juggling Work, Family and Caregiving in Middle and Working Class Families by Deborah Merrill, Auburn House, 1997.

How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris,Workman Publishing, 1996.

Children of Aging Parents

Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging

National Family Caregivers Association

National Foundation for Depressive Illness

National Institute on Aging Resource Directory for Older People Handbook

National Self-help Clearinghouse
(213) 354-8525