Managing Caregiver Guilt

It’s only natural to want the very best for the people we love, but as the ones we love the most grow older, we may find ourselves in the precarious position of having to make tough decisions in order to keep them safe and healthy. As a caregiver of an aging parent or other loved one, you have likely experienced some guilt when making decisions that impact their lives; that take them out of their comfort zone and make them anxious and unhappy.

If you’ve experienced caregiver guilt, you’re not alone. Age related illness – whether it’s physical or mental – affects both the patient and the people close to them, who share in their pain and frustrations. And while it may be easy to feel overwhelmed when caring for your older loved one, the more calm and relaxed you are, the better you’ll be able to help the person you love – and yourself.

Dealing with caregiver guilt? Below are some ways to manage the stress that comes with caring for your aging loved one.

  • Recognize That You Feel Guilty. Feelings such as anger, sadness, or guilt are indicators that it’s time to pay careful attention to the situation at hand. It’s important to understand that these feeling are not only normal, they are also healthy, according to Barry J. Jacobs, a psychologist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. In fact, simply accepting guilty feelings as part of the process can help make you feel better.
  • Reach Out. If you’re feeling hopeless with guilt, remember that you can’t change the situation at hand, but you can change how you deal with it. Alexis Abramson, author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook, suggests connecting with caregiving organizations that can offer support. Other types of organizations that can have resources for caregivers include hospitals, a hospice center, and senior living communities.
  • Spend Time With Your Thoughts. When we’re feeling guilty, it’s easy to get caught up in inner dialogue that begins with: “I should have,” “I could have,” “I ought to.” Pay close attention to these sorts of conversations with yourself that only contribute to guilt. Instead of saying, “If only I helped my mom stay in her home longer,” tell yourself, “I made a difficult decision guided by my love for my mom.”
  • Have a Stress Relief Plan. Caregivers need time to relieve stress, which can help keep the mind free from guilt. Consider taking some time out every day to exercise. Getting your heart rate up can raise endorphin (our “feel good hormones”) levels that can keep you positive and focused. Taking a walk, gardening, or reading a book are also simple ways to destress.
  • Forgive Yourself. Caregiver guilt often arises when we do not accept that some things are beyond our control. Part of managing guilt is accepting that while you have done all you can to give your loved one the solution they want, in the end it simply may not be a viable option. For example, you may want to keep your loved one with dementia at home, but also understand that doing so would put them in serious danger.

You’re not alone. Caring for an aging loved one can be stressful, but it can also be a time for the two of you to bond, as you navigate life’s challenges together. Reach out to others and take care of yourself to let go of caregiver guilt and enjoy the precious moments you share with the senior you hold close to your heart.