As I sit down to write this, a massive wildfire continues to burn in Northern Alberta. The city of Ft. McMurray, Alberta has been most affected … at last count, some 80,000 residents have been evacuated and 2,400 structures have been lost. Little notice could be given to leave and residents were forced to evacuate with little more than just the clothes they were wearing. News coverage shows many homes are now nothing but charred shells and home-owners are left to helplessly wait for further news as to when it will be safe to return to their community, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. In the meantime, these former residents of Ft. McMurray have relocated to nearby cities to stay with family, friends, and even complete strangers who have offered a spare bedroom to anybody in need. These former residents have nothing left and have become reliant on the help of others.
Why am I sharing this? And on this platform? This current situation is similar to that of a caregiver – one who helps and supports an aging family member, friend, partner, or spouse. When working closely with others in this role, caregivers can also greatly benefit from other’s help.
There are, however, two major problems here. Firstly, well-meaning friends may witness what you are going through, sympathize, and honestly want to help; however, they may have never been a caregiver before and may not realize what exactly is needed. In this case, don’t wait for the gracious offer of assistance, but make a direct request or recommendation of what you may need. This is no time to be shy! Whether it is volunteering to drive your parent to an appointment or to watch your kids for the evening while you get out for some well-needed respite, others can provide you support in many ways … but it is often up to you to make those requests so others can better help you to help your loved one and yourself.
Secondly, a caregiver may not immediately accept outside help. This can be due to denial (agreeing that an extra set of hands would be useful) or obligation (caregiving for my parent is my responsibility and nobody can provide better care than I can …). Whatever the case, caregiving is not a job to tackle independently. Accept that help by all means! In my former years as a co-caregiver for both of my own parents, I was very grateful to be on a smooth functioning team with my two sisters and to find numerous necessary resources for caregivers (for example, The Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories, my parent’s doctors, senior’s associations, and a hospital day program for my father). Utilizing all of these and delegating some work to others ultimately helped me to take frequent respite breaks and to become a better caregiver.
My message here is to resist the urge to go it alone as a caregiver. There is help out there at many levels; however, it may not be immediately obvious. As a caregiver, you need to find that support, ask for support, and to accept that support when and where it is offered to allow yourself respite time. Speaking from experience, if you do not this it can impact you in numerous negative ways. While those displaced Ft. McMurray residents have been left with significant losses from a very significant fire, they now have some of the immediate help they need to carry on. As a caregiver, lean on others and accept help as well. You don’t have to burn yourself out when you don’t have too.
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.