How To Help Caregivers Handle Guilt

Julia Little  |  June 23, 2015
Help caregivers not feel guilty

The number of adults taking on the role of a caregiver for a loved one is growing as the baby boomer generation - the world's largest population - reaches old age. Approximately 44 million adults 18 or older care for an aging relative or friend in the U.S., according to AARP's most recent statistics. It's important that health professionals ensure these caregivers keep their mental and physical health in check, as providing full-time support can be a challenging task. 

Although being there for a family member can be very rewarding at times, stress is an inevitable feeling that many caregivers will face. The Mayo Clinic noted that guilt is one of the common emotions experienced while caring for a loved one. For example, not spending enough time with relatives and losing patience with them frequently causes caregivers to feel guilty. 

As guilt can begin to impact caregivers' well-being, health providers should help them manage this negative emotion. Providing advice on how to maintain their happiness and general health will help caregivers remain in better control of their emotions. Here are a few suggestions to consider making:

Focus on what you can control
AARP pointed out that caregivers often feel guilt over situations they can't control. These circumstances may include caregivers' inability to spend more time with an aging loved one because they live far away or because they have responsibilities to children or spouses. Remind patients that no one is perfect and that they should never feel guilty over things they have no power over. If caregivers try to do more than they're able to, this will only negatively impact both them and their aging family members. 

Barry Jacobs, a psychologist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, told AARP that encouraging caregivers to accept that emotions like guilt and stress are going to occur every so often, and that this is normal, will assist them in dealing with their guilt. 

"You love the person you're caring for, but you hate the caregiving," said Jacobs. "That's normal." 

Look for and accept help when needed
Caregivers may find that they simply do not have the time or resources they once had to support their family member. This happens a lot when a relative's condition begins to worsen and he or she starts to require care that's often provided by a trained caregiver. In this case, noted that it may be a good idea to recommend looking into assisted living homes where seniors are supported at all times and are surrounded by others experiencing similar health problems to prevent feelings of loneliness or isolation. Remind caregivers that while this may cause guilt initially, as seniors begin to settle in and become comfortable in their new home, chances are they will see that their caregivers made this decision to benefit them. 

Advise patients to join local support groups, especially if they inform you that in addition to feeling guilty, they're overwhelmed, constantly stressed or exhausted. The Mayo Clinic explained that being near like-minded individuals who are experiencing similar issues can provide the encouragement and support they need to view their situations in a different light. Keeping other family members or friends updated on what's going on and alerting them when extra help is needed will also be beneficial to caregivers. 

Pencil in a few hours for yourself
Inform caregivers that taking care of themselves often determines the quality of support they're able to provide for their loved ones. noted that eating healthily, getting enough sleep and staying physically active are necessary steps to ensure that caregivers are properly balancing their loved ones' needs with their own. After all, impatience and frustration are often the result of exhaustion or poor mental health.