Column: Defining the 'F' word

Today I’m going to talk about a word I hear most often from family caregivers. It is the F word — “fine.”

But let’s start with defining the words “family caregiver.” I define family caregiver as a family member who has an elderly relative. The degree of involvement in care may range from providing personal care to making a few phone calls a week to check on the elderly, and everything in between. Wherever you are on this continuum, you are a family caregiver and you are carrying a heavy load whether you realize it or not.

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However, when asked “How are you doing?” caregivers often use that “F” word. Many caregivers minimize what they do and are truly convinced that it is “nothing.” In fact, caregivers always think they could be doing more. Caregivers completely neglect themselves. They think they will be just … fine. And they carry on like this. Until they collapse.

Caregiver burnout is real and it is serious. Carrying a heavy load will always have its consequences. Those may show up in the form of health problems, work problems, or you may notice that your relationship with your elders is suffering.

The good news is your energy and patience are renewable.

First, you need to recognize the load you are carrying. In many cultures, caring for the elderly is expected and taken for granted. The problem is things have changed in the 21st century. We no longer have big families where women stay at home and care for the children and the elderly. We work two or more jobs and we are “sandwiched” between our children and our parents. And, our parents now live much longer than they ever did. All this makes caregiving in 21st century much more difficult than it has ever been.

Second, think about taking care of yourself as a favor to your relative. Your relative will benefit from your care much more if you are in a good mood. Third, remember that setting healthy boundaries is necessary. If done right, it will benefit both parties. This step can be very difficult as it involves rewriting some old family patterns. Ask for professional help if you need to. Attend a free family caregiver workshop hosted by me on April 22 at 7 p.m. at the Richmond Public Library (Main Branch). Contact library for registration.

Karyna Matsyuk is a registered clinical counsellor and a licensed practical nurse specializing in helping families of all ages and stages to overcome life’s challenges.

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