“Am I doing enough?”

It’s a tricky question for caregivers.

By Angelina Portuense, LSW September 18, 2022

Here’s some good advice about avoiding caregiver burnout from one of our Allies, the professional aging experts who help our members age successfully. Angelina has wrestled with caregiver overload in her own life.

As a caregiver, I often ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” For example, one night I was washing dishes after cooking dinner at my mom’s house when she asked, “Angelina, could we spend time together out of the house sometime too?” I nodded, but inside I felt apprehensive, overwhelmed by my other responsibilities. As a full-time working parent, I didn’t want to give her what little “me time” I had left over, but I felt guilty that she had unmet needs. She was lonely, and maybe needed more stimulation.

After some reflection, I was honest with her. I shared how stretched I felt and, to my relief, she understood. Together we came up with a “good enough” plan. We earmarked Saturdays as our day to go shopping, eat out, and socialize. My seven-year-old son would come along too. Out of the house, I would be freed from thinking about chores and be more able to focus on spending quality time with both of them. They would enjoy family time with each other, and I could get some errands done. Lunch out would be a special treat for all of us.

Happily, this multitasking solution met my mom’s needs, my son’s needs, and my own, but it’s not always so easy. Each caregiving situation is unique, and creating balance is not a simple recipe. In that spirit, I find the following general guidelines helpful when I feel out of balance as a caregiver, and I hope they help you too.

Guidelines for Caregivers: Five Tips

  1. Avoid burnout. Juggling is inevitable, but caregiver burnout—a chronic state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of caring for another—is not. Be aware of how you are faring in addition to those you care for. Seek help if you see signs of burnout.
  2. Practice Open Communication. Communication is key to any relationship, including caregiving. When tensions or conflicts arise, work together to brainstorm solutions that respect everyone’s needs, including yours!
  3. Widen Your Social Circle. Loneliness is a major issue for adults over 60, 43% of whom report feeling lonely. Caregivers often feel that they’re the only social lifeline for those they care for. Your aging parents may prefer to rely on you because it’s comfortable. Investing in new relationships takes effort, but when you help them to expand their social circle it can benefit both of you in the long run.
  4. Keep Emotions in Check. It can be very difficult for people to express their needs and feelings directly, and proxy battles (i.e. a heated argument about buying the wrong kind of creamer that is not really about the creamer) are common. When emotions run high (yours or theirs or both), wait for a calm moment to try and analyze what the real issues are. Write them down on paper, if that helps. Reflection and dialogue can help reveal solutions hiding in plain sight and bring down the stress level.
  5. Reach Out for Help. If you need help as a caregiver, it’s never a negative reflection on you! On the contrary, recognizing that you need help is a strength.

****** About the Author: Angelina Portuense, LSW, is a NeverStop Wellness Ally and a case manager who has been working in the elder care field for over six years. Her passion for working with older adults started in her teenage years when she became a family caregiver.