Dear Donna:

My great-aunt had a bad fall a few months ago that left her with some pretty significant injuries. She’s recently been discharged from a rehabilitation center and is staying with me. I am her only relative and love her dearly. The role of caregiver is brand new to me, and I find myself struggling.

I worry that I’m overlooking things and not caring for her properly. If I leave her in the care of my husband for even short periods of time, like to run a quick errand, I feel guilty.

My aunt will likely be sharing our home permanently, so I know I have to find ways to better cope with caregiving. Do you have any advice for how to do that?


Janet in Grand Haven, MI

Coping Tips for Family Caregivers

Dear Janet:

My first suggestion is to be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings are okay to have. When it comes to caring for a loved one, most of us are too hard on ourselves. Family members have a rollercoaster of emotions even after years of caregiving experience. Fear, guilt, and sadness about the future are common.

As a caregiver, you are witnessing a person who has been a big part of your life struggle. That isn’t easy. Being unable to predict exactly what they’ll need from you can be anxiety-inducing, too. Then there is the guilt. When a family member believes they’ve made a mistake or have taken a little time to themselves, the guilt can be overwhelming.

Here are a few tips for managing the rollercoaster of difficult emotions family caregivers experience every day:

  • Join a caregiver support group.

Caregiver support groups are a great avenue for learning how to manage difficult emotions. They allow you to connect with peers in person or online. Not only will you learn from other group members’ experiences, but you will also discover you aren’t alone in this struggle.

Online caregiver support groups are often a good option when time is an issue or it isn’t safe to leave a family member unattended. Some caregivers find it easier to share their true feelings because of the anonymity of an online group.

In-person groups are good for those who want face-to-face interaction with fellow family caregivers. Check local senior centers, assisted living communities, and churches to find one near you.

  • Connect with information and resources.

Part of the fear family caregivers have stems from not having any formal training. Many take on the role like you did, after a loved one experienced a health crisis. The uncertainty you feel is legitimate and understandable.

It might be helpful to find resources that help you self-educate, such as articles on the Heritage Senior Communities blog. AARP Caregiver Resource Center is another helpful option to explore. You may also want to call your local agency on aging to ask about family caregiver workshops. If they don’t offer them, they might know of a nearby organization that does.

  • Take advantage of respite services.

Respite care is a program designed to give caregivers relief on a short-term basis. It can be a lifesaver for people who don’t have friends or family with whom to share caregiving duties. Most respite services can be utilized for a few days or up to a month, depending upon the senior living community.

Respite guests in a senior living community benefit from receiving the same care and support as long-term residents. They also enjoy healthy meals, housekeeping services, and a variety of daily life enrichment activities.

  • Ask for help.

This last suggestion is important: give yourself permission to ask for and accept help. You can’t do it all. Trying to do so can lead to chronic stress and caregiver burnout. Whether it’s asking a friend to pick up a few groceries for you or investigating a friendly visitor program at your church or synagogue, allowing others to support your family through this time is necessary and okay.

I hope this information brings you some peace of mind and confidence, Janet. Please let me know if you would like more information on respite care at any of the Heritage Senior Communities or call the location nearest you!

Kind regards,