Ask the Expert: Emotional Issues of Caregiving

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Andrea Holmberg, program coordinator for Sharp Senior Resource Centers, discusses the emotional issues of caregiving.

My mom has Alzheimer's disease. How can I help her?
It’s very common to go through an emotional turmoil when you’re looking at trying to take care of a loved one. Oftentimes, caregivers are "fix it" people so they want to be able to go in and fix the problem, and you can’t really fix some of these things that caregivers are facing like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Caregivers also can feel very angry because while anticipating retirement and having planned for it for so many years, an older adult's illness may have been unforeseeable.

You can also be in denial that there isn’t even a problem. One of the things that I like to recommend to people is to try and learn what you can about the disease that your loved one is facing, so you know what to expect, what is normal in the progression of the disease.

I'm feeling overwhelmed. What should I do?
Caregivers need to figure out a way to be able to take the breaks for themselves and to take these emotions and learn to cope with them. Doing something out of their routine, something that gets them away from the daily caregiver chores really helps them relieve that stress.

It's also essential to maintain a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh about something, it makes it much more difficult. Don’t just think you have to do everything by yourself. And if you find that you can’t do some of the things, that’s OK, too. But you want to try and find those moments that renew your spirit that will help you rest and enjoy some simple pleasures of life.

How can I receive emotional support as a caregiver?
Support groups are a terrific way to get some relief from the various emotional issues that you face. You could hear that someone has also been in the same place that you are and it can be quite a relief. One of the things that I think is important is that you need to forgive yourself for not being perfect. You just need to be able to accept that and tell yourself that you’re doing the best that you can. You need to find ways to relieve the tension and the stress that those caregiving duties bring.

There are counselors that are also available for free who can help people who are really having trouble and struggling with these issues.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's senior health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about senior health, read the Senior Health News archive.

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About the Expert
Andrea Holmberg is program coordinator for Sharp Senior Resource Centers.