Are You Caring Too Much? Tips on Ending Helplessness and Boredom in Caregiving

A well-meaning caregiver can do too much, leaving the person receiving care feeling helpless and bored, even lonely.

How can a caregiver find the balance between taking care of tasks for someone whose abilities have changed due to age or illness and not taking over their life? It starts with the approach to care.

Approach to Caregiving: Helping Another Person Grow

Home care for individuals is about more than specific physical and medical needs. Each person has their own interests, preferences and personality that also need to be tended to by family, friends and even professional caregivers. The Eden Alternative® principles are helping caregiving experts and family caregivers look with new eyes at the people they help.

“In Eden Alternative philosophy, we define care as helping another grow,” said Laura Beck, Learning and Development Guide for the Eden Alternative®, a non-profit organization that provides education and consultation for organizations across the continuum of care. “From our perspective, the tendency out there is that care is treatment alone. The truth is, we all require care all the time and may not require treatment all of the time.”

The Eden Alternative® has a principle-based philosophy with a goal of eliminating loneliness, boredom and helplessness, which it calls the three caregiver “plagues” that account for suffering among the elder population. The antidote for these plagues is found in their principles of person-direct care:

· The antidote for loneliness is loving companionship

· The antidote for helplessness is to create the opportunity to give as well as receive care

· The antidote for boredom is to imbue life with variety and spontaneity

This might look like someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease still helping out with light housekeeping while a loved one or caregiver does the meal preparation. In this way, the person isn’t left feeling helpless in their own home, but as an engaged person with something of their own to give.

When it comes to a professional caregiver, this approach could mean less checking things off a task list and more consideration of what is best for the individual. This is what Beck might call the two-way street of caregiving, where both parties are giving and receiving as opposed to just one person giving and one person receiving.

“It is a care partnership,” said Beck. “I think a lot of times what happens is that people are so focused on what it means to be a good giver that they burn out.”

How to Help Less, But Still Give

Beck states that people who are treated only as receivers begin to feel helpless. “People are not being invited to give of themselves,” she said of the elderly and others who require additional care.

Changing the dynamic to that of a care partnership with giving and receiving from each person can be subtle. “If you look at helplessness, the antidote is the opportunity to give as well as receive,” Beck stated. “We all want to have a purpose and we feel better when we are not being given to all the time.”

The real trick to being successful with the Eden Alternative® principles is to do less while simultaneously being more. “In our society, we’re very focused on being doers,” Beck explained. “If we become more aware about being present and not what you need to do next, then you bring awareness into the care partnership. It isn’t just about tasks. You will be better prepared to meet their needs as a care partner than you ever will if you all you’re worried about is doing tasks.”

Being freed up from the “to do” list lets the antidotes come naturally. Since the antidote for boredom is the opportunity to experience spontaneity and variety, changing the routine instantly creates this fix. “Home care can be just as institutional as nursing home care,” Beck said. “When the routine is wrapped around the care, life isn’t being allowed to happen. People have to be given permission to create an environment that is open to spontaneity and variety.”

Tackling Loneliness

When you as a caregiver do everything for someone who has had a surgery, or someone who is living with a chronic and degenerative condition, or someone who simply isn’t up to some tasks because of physical changes due to aging, then there is less engagement. When this happens, it can also lead to loneliness, even if you are physically together.

Check out this video with Dr. G. Allen Power, a former geriatrician and dementia care expert, who explains how some caregivers take on more than is needed to the detriment of the person receiving their care. “Her husband had just assumed she was incapable, and was taking everything over for her,” he explains in sharing one story of caregiving. “She just became terribly withdrawn.”

This is one way that someone receiving care can experience loneliness, but it’s also an epidemic due to many seniors living alone. The National Institute on Aging cites statistics from 2019 that 28 percent, or 13.5 million adults over age 65 in the United States, live alone. They note that “some people feel lonely despite being surrounded by family and friends.”

Research has found that social isolation is associated with a number of physical and mental conditions including depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

A caregiver can support re-engagement with meaningful activities for someone whose life and connections have changed due to the loss of a loved one, illness, or something else. For example, a caregiver can assist with bathing, dressing, and grooming in preparation for a social outing or just to run errands. The caregiver can also provide reliable transportation to and from appointments or accompany this person to visit a museum, go for a walk in the sunshine, or participate in a favorite activity of either individual and learn something new together.

The possibilities are endless, and it can be something that one party loves to do and can teach the other one, or an opportunity for both learn. Try one of these activities with a person you are caring for sometime:

· Take a painting class

· Go to a classical music concert—maybe one outdoors

· Go fishing

· Visit an art museum

· See a classic car show

· Dine out at a favorite restaurant

· Join a Walk With a Doc program in your area

· Take an online cooking class or just try a new recipe together at home

· Explore your neighborhood library (and see what programming they offer)

· Volunteer at the local animal shelter together

By having things like this to look forward and adapting activities to personal preferences and current abilities, it’s possible that feelings of loneliness can be eased. Remember not to take over as a caregiver to avoid making this person feel helpless or bored, but let them have their own authentic new experience that you can discuss at length later.

Learn more about the Homewatch CareGivers approach to care and types of home care services offered to see how it can benefit you and your family.

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