Ask Nancy: Who to call when the caregiver needs help

06/04/2014 2:00 PM

06/04/2014 2:18 PM

Q. My parents are in their late 80s and live nearby — I see them often. My father, though very active, requires a lot of daily assistance as he uses a walker and sometimes a wheelchair.

Fortunately, my parents have a longtime male caregiver who is able to help my father maintain his active schedule by helping him get ready in the morning and driving him wherever he needs to go. He’s a huge help, and his presence allows my mother to maintain her own active social life. The amount of assistance required increases slowly but surely.

My mother called recently to complain that his aide is asking for more time off and a later start time in the day. She also said he is often curt with them. Thus, she has had to curtail her own social engagements to accommodate my father’s needs more. It’s not so much that she objects, but that I think it’s just too much for her to do, both physically and emotionally. Any suggestions?

Lynn M., Miami

A. What you described sounds like a case of caregiver burnout, an all-too-familiar consequence of caring for someone who requires daily attentive care over a long period of time. And, as you’ve learned, it can happen to a professional, trained aide who is otherwise compassionate and dependable.

“Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that can be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned,” explains Alexis Abramson, Ph.D., an expert on aging and care-giving and the author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook. “It usually occurs when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or when they attempt to do more than they are able — either emotionally or physically.”

Cranky behavior, frequent complaining and requests for time off are all symptoms of burnout and a signal that it’s time to make some changes.

I’m not suggesting that your parents replace the aide. On the contrary, if this is a longtime and cherished caregiver, it would be wise for them to do what they can to make the relationship continue to work. I suggest introducing a home health agency that can provide your caregiver with some help.

For example, maybe it is just the morning hours that are too demanding for him. Or, perhaps he would like more scheduled time off on weekends. Talk to your parents’ caregiver to see what specific concerns need to be addressed so that you can help create a new schedule that makes everyone happy.

Adding an additional trained caregiver for certain hours might be just the solution for your family going forward.

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