If you’re a family caregiver, you might feel like your emotions are all over the place.
Some days you and your loved one are the best of friends—but other days not so much.
You might feel like the much-appreciated hero in the morning—but by lunch, you apparently can’t do anything right.
The good news is that you’re not imagining things, and that you’re certainly not alone. Many caregivers experience a roller coaster of emotions when caring for their loved ones—and those who are receiving care often do, as well.
The AARP Family Caregiving Survey
In November, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) published the results of its most recent Family Caregiving Survey, which surveyed both caregivers and care recipients “to examine the emotions they experience as well as how their relationship with their loved one may have changed as a result of caregiving.”
Among the caregivers surveyed:
- 40%—were not prepared to take on the role of family caregiver
- 91%—were pleased to be able to help
- 51%—felt stressed
- 51%—felt worried
- 40%—felt overwhelmed
- 54%—experienced an “unexpected joy in caregiving”
- 24%—had regrets
Among the care recipients surveyed:
- 91%—felt pleased to be cared for
- 89%—had a sense of gratitude
- 59%—felt less independent
- 51%—experienced an “unexpected joy” or positive feelings about being cared for
- 26%—had regrets
As a former family caregiver, I’m quite familiar with all of those emotions.
Plus, I’m a nerd and I love data like this.
It both affirms our experiences and can help us to address the dynamics we’d like to change. So let’s look at where that might be possible.
Steps toward positive change
I love the phrase “unexpected joy”—and both caregivers and care recipients referred to it in the context of the benefits that caregiving provided for their relationship. Specifically, they said they enjoyed getting to know each other better and spending more time together.
I also found it interesting that among the regrets that caregivers expressed, included were “wishing they’d spent more time with their loved one,” and that they’d been more compassionate and emotionally prepared.
While caring for a loved one can be overwhelming at times, there are so many blessings that come along for the ride. Just like everyone else, the journey for Mom and me had its ups and downs—but together, we figured out how to tackle the hard stuff as a team, while recognizing and embracing our time together as the treasure that it was.
If you’re a family caregiver, maybe a few things that helped us can help you and your loved one, too:
- Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes—it’s not easy to be dependent on someone else and change is really hard.
- Empower your loved one’s autonomy—being a partner in their care instead of an overbearing control freak.
- Remember the power of words—and walk away if you’re about to say something you’ll regret.
- Be present when you’re together—instead of worrying about everything else you have to do.
- Play and have fun together—instead of just focusing on caregiving tasks.
- Savor the time you have with each other—knowing that someday you’ll need those memories to carry you through.
- Pray for yourself and each other—spending consistent quiet time with God to refresh and renew.
- Remember that your loved one’s journey may be your own someday—since we’re all on life’s continuum together.
Resource books you might find helpful:
- A Spirituality of Caregiving by Henri Nouwen (affiliate link)
- American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Family Caregiving: The Essential Guide to Cancer Caregiving at Home by
- How to Care for Aging Parents, 3rd Edition: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues by Virginia Morris (affiliate link)
- The 36-Hour Day, sixth edition: The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book) by Nancy L. Mace MA and Peter V. Rabins MD MPH (affiliate link)
- The Caregiving Season: Finding Grace to Honor Your Aging Parents by Jane Daly (affiliate link)
- When Family Calls: Finding Hope in the Chaos of Long-Distance Caregiving by
For more resources about Agile Caregiving and other topics, please visit our page, Resources for the Journey.
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