Nic Wallenda became the first person to attempt walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. Fortunately, he survived the crossing but it required careful balancing! A similar balancing act is required by caregivers – those who help and support others. In their roles, they not only care for an aging loved one but also for themselves.
Caregiver balance can be achieved, in part, through means of respite. In simpler terms, respite means taking a break. When you consider everything that a caregiver does (and continues to do or may be asked to do …) on a regular basis, it would seem to make perfect sense that only so much can be accomplished. Remember, that in addition to your own caregiving responsibilities, you may be required to do much more on any given day – you could drop the car off to have your winter tires installed, work your job, pick up your children after school, cook dinner for your family, and/or finalize some notes for tomorrow’s meeting. You must also allow time for the simple act of sleeping (resting and recharging is something caregivers may easily overlook).
But the truth be told, many caregivers often fail to realize this until it becomes too late and their own tightrope wire begins to wobble. Caregivers will often refuse to let someone else share the workload and plow ahead believing that they can effectively manage balance the job of caregiving along with their own careers, families, and lives.
But caregiving is not a job to be undertaken independently. As a former co-caregiver for my own parents, I teamed with my older and younger sister to accomplish what needed to be done. Our “team” approach resulted in more hands being available to work. If you are an only child or have siblings living at a greater distance away (or perhaps unwilling or unable to provide support), you can still effectively “team” with friends, neighbours, healthcare professionals, and/or homecare workers to provide quality care. Caregivers can also take smaller steps and proceed with caution.
When a tightrope walker attempts to traverse too far, he/she runs the risk of falling (even a gust of wind can prove to be treacherous). When a caregiver attempts to do too much, he/she will frequently fall flat and encounter stress. Stress is certainly not the only reaction for caregivers; there are other symptoms including poor health, lack of concentration, interrupted sleep, and/or poor appetite. Please don’t just dismiss these signs … watch for increased problems with the more caregiving responsibilities you take on. Before you reach the tipping point, you may have to check in with your doctor.
If you are expecting to become a caregiver or are currently providing help and support to an aging loved one, please don’t attempt Nic Wallenda’s feat and step out on that highwire without a safety net. Courage, training, patience, and good luck may get you only so far across the rope. Having a soft spot to land or having someone waiting to catch you on the chance that you fall is vital. Remember, your caregiving safety net includes caregiver respite.