For most, being a “caregiver” isn’t a job description, it is a calling in life. It is a privilege, but also a challenge. What that means, though, is that they have many things occupying both their brain and their time as they navigate the responsibility. We like to think about things in terms of an emotional bank account. As caregivers, they are constantly making withdrawals, but it can be hard to make a deposit. The risk is becoming overdrawn without finding ways to replenish their bank accounts.
This is an idea that is becoming increasingly important. Time is being split in more directions, and senior needs move faster than ever before. The NYTimes refers to this need as “Caring for the caregiver” in a recent OpEd- and makes the case for why as families and societies we should band together and help.
We wanted to provide a few ways that we have seen work remarkably well.
How employers can care for the caregiver
If you are an employer, find a way to offer time or resources to help caregivers. It is extremely likely that one of your employees will be in a caregiver calling and may split their time in too many directions. Consider adding “Caregiver days” to your vacation policy. Consider it an extra perk that will increase productivity in the long run. Each situation is unique, so find ways to be flexible and to give caregivers time to think through their responsibilities.
How technology can help care for the caregiver
Get a helping hand from technology. When you are caring for someone you love, don’t go it alone. Even technology can help. Thriving is a mobile app that can help clear your mind and replenish your emotional bank account. While it includes a suite of communications features (video, voice calls, text messaging, photo sharing), it also includes a marquee feature that allows senior parents to “check in” with their mood on a mobile phone or tablet device. Instead of calling or visiting to make sure everything is ok, they can expect to receive regular notifications at the click of a button. The end result is peace of mind for both the senior and the caregiver.
How friends can help care for the caregiver
Find somewhere to vent. Even if you love an aging parent deeply, you will likely build up frustration or resentment. When this happens, find that place to vent and release. For some, this is a diary. For others, a person who they can call and complain to, free of judgment. There are also dozens of online groups dedicated to caregivers, and many offer a platform to honestly communicate frustration when things get tough.
How family can help care for the caregiver
Get many hands to make light work. As the primary caregiver, you may feel like you are uniquely qualified or educated to take care of an aging parent. However, you should find a way to take a break. Bring in family members. Help them understand your contribution so they will appreciate the work you are doing. In many families, they don’t know the amount of physical, emotional or even financial stress that accompanies being the primary caregiver. Once you communicate this, you should also ask for help, with specific instructions. If you can take a step away and care for yourself, your brain will thank you. You can come back refreshed and ready to jump back in.
We hope that those of you who are caregivers will find ways to take care of yourselves. If you are an employer, rethink your resources to allow caregivers to replenish their “emotional bank accounts.” If you are a family member, ask how you can help and give thanks for their contributions.