What To Do When Caretaking Is Overwhelming

Q: I am taking care of my dad and am getting overwhelmed with all that I need to do. What can I do to get help?

A: First, thank you for doing all you do. This job is a big responsibility. It also usually doesn’t start with a sudden health change. It often starts with help with doing a little task and then a little more, gradually increasing to taking on most of the chores and responsibilities.

There are situations when the need for caregiving happens suddenly, like with a stroke, heart attack, fall or broken bone. With these sudden occurrences, there usually is health insurance coverage for some of the help that is needed at first. This coverage is short lived, but it often helps us move into a more comprehensive plan.

When there is a gradual shift of responsibility, it is not as easy to figure out solutions. Often people don’t realize they need help until they are knee deep in stress, having feelings of frustration and are overwhelmed about what to do.

My recommendation is always, “Get help.”

Don’t wait until you are in crisis to look for options. Ask for help from the people who offer. When someone says, “Call if there is anything I can do,” say, “Actually there is, could you … ?”

You fill in the blank. Do you need help grocery shopping, paying bills, running errands, vacuuming, washing dishes, laundry, going to doctor appointments? Do you need someone to stay in the home with your family member while you do any of those things? Do you need a dinner brought to you once in a while, your garden weeded, lawn mowed, sidewalk shoveled or garbage taken to the curb on Tuesday mornings? There are so many things to be done. What about pictures hung, screen replaced, windows washed?

Asking for help or taking help does not mean you have failed. It actually means you are succeeding. You are carrying a lot of responsibility, so why not take a little help when it is offered. You are definitely a doer, and you may have a hard time letting someone else do it for you. Let go a little and let others help. People offer to help because they want to help. It also gives them an opportunity to feel needed and useful.

Besides those people offering to help, there may be family who would help if you asked for it. Often they may be reluctant to give a bath, but maybe they would help with grocery shopping. Or they would rather help balance the checkbook, or weed the flowers. Everyone has their own comfort zone, or things they like to do, so use them to help you out.

There are also people you can hire to do some of these things, such as errand services, landscaping and lawn maintenance companies. Maybe you could hire a neighbor or young adult down the street, who could help after school. Or look for someone affiliated with your church, your book club, bridge club, or a friend of a friend. Ask others what they are doing, and how did they find help? This may lead to a solution for you as well.

If you are hiring someone to provide hands on care for your family member, you definitely want someone who is trained and knows what they are doing. A home care agency may be your best bet here. Some families hire someone they know, but you need to be sure that individual knows how to do what you are asking them to do. Home care agencies do cost more money per hour usually, but you are paying for the fact that that agency did a background check and is responsible for what the person does while in your home. They also are in charge of scheduling that person to come to your home and finding a replacement if they can’t come.

You can call NY Connects to get a list of home care agencies in the area. NY Connects is a statewide service giving information about resources within your community. NY Connects can be reached at 753-4582 or ccnyc@co.chautauqua.ny.us. The Office For the Aging also has a list of private providers that will work in your home. I do express a little bit of caution when talking about this private provider list. This list includes hundreds of names, and it is your responsibility to check references and arrange for payment and scheduling. Using this list can be useful, but you need to understand that there is no guarantee about anyone on that list. It is a list of names of people who expressed a willingness to work for seniors in their home. This list says nothing about their credentials, credibility or training.

Remember, as a caregiver, you are probably taking care of that other person better than you are taking care of yourself. Don’t get so overwhelmed that you get angry, frustrated and burned out.

There are now three different support groups available in the area that may meet your needs. The first is the Caregiver Chat sponsored by Family Service of Chautauqua Region. This group means the fourth Tuesday from 12:15-1:45. The meeting is held at Christ First Church, on the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Buffalo Street in Jamestown. This group is run by a Licensed Social Worker. The people that attend this group may be a huge source of support and help to you. They are doing what you are trying to do. Why not benefit from their experience and expertise?

The second and third groups are caregiver support groups offered by the Alzheimer’s Association and run by Maggie Irwin who is a retired social worker. The second group is held at 1 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at the JAMA building (second floor) in Brooklyn Square. The third group is also run by Maggie Irwin and is held the third Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. and meets at the Fluvanna Community Church at 3363 Fluvanna Ave. Ext., Jamestown. These groups are designed to help those caregivers dealing with dementia. This may or may not be your situation. Either group offers lots of support and experience to help you.

I am really excited about this newest and third group being offered. It is held in the evening which can be useful to those individuals who can’t get away during the day. I hope that one of these support groups are something you would attend. I think the ideas and support you receive will help more than you realize.