The Caregiver’s Dilemma – Surviving the experience and not being pulled under.

It might be your loved one – a spouse or child

After getting past, “I’m the only one helping out”, the next difficult challenge is to make sure to take care of yourself before it’s too late, and you’re overwhelmed.

I’ve been a caregiver as well as someone receiving a caregiver’s help. While taking on the role of care giver, I found it was often difficult to remind myself, soon enough, not to take on too much responsibility. And at times I felt overwhelmed.

When it came time for me to be the person receiving care, I tried to balance my own needs with how much care giving I needed. As a care receiver you may not be able to judge how much help you actually need. The challenge is to provide enough care for someone so they’re not even more stressed out, and if you’re the person needing help, not to overwhelm the caregiver.

Do you, as someone’s caregiver, sometimes feel that the daily physical and emotional work is pulling you down into exhaustion, depression, or anger? Trying to work harder rarely makes a positive difference and often just makes you more upset and tired. No matter what the situation – helping your parent(s), a friend, your spouse, or another relative – one person can rarely do it alone, for very long.  A person may be able to give care for a while, but it usually doesn’t last too long before overload or resentment shows up. Sometimes I hear people say, “No one can do it as good as I do, or as compassionately.” They might say, “Another person won’t know how to please the patient/loved one as well as I can.” All of that may be true, but just as you’re told during the emergency instructions on an airplane, take care of yourself first.

Also, determine if there’ll be pushback from the person needing care. Have you made yourself so understanding, capable, and irreplaceable, that your care-receiver only wants you? Now you’re really sinking, aren’t you?

It isn’t so funny. This happens frequently. Sometimes people don’t want strangers around. Sometimes they only want a relative, or woman to help; a spouse, daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, mom or friend. Less frequently, they’re only willing to have a man’s help. This could be their spouse, son, grandson, brother, or friend. The important issue is to figure out if “only one special person will do” is part of the equation. If it is, you need to consider how possible filling this request will be.

I know many of you have heard this all before, but we all need reminders from time to time. Make sure to take care of the caregiver. Make sure you get enough rest, exercise, eat healthily and take time to have some fun. AND, most importantly, find others to pitch in and help. Don’t wait until you feel overwhelmed and overloaded.
As soon as you realize someone close to you needs help, put together a care-team. Over the years I’ve seen many situations where either family, or friends, form “teams” to care for a loved one. Sometimes you might be in charge, and other times there may be someone else, who’s not quite as close and who’s great at organizing. You might be surprised to learn how others can pitch in and make life easier and less stressful for the primary caregiver(s).

There may be multiple household chores, appointments, or medical responsibilities that need doing. Tally up a list. Find out how many “potential” care givers you can identify. Some issues may be able to be handled from a distance. Some people may have expertise that could come in handy. If more people pitch in and help it’s less stressful on each caregiver. Just make sure it isn’t more stressful for the care receiver.

Whether you have a more formal, sit-down family meeting, or less formal one, plan it out and find someone to bounce ideas off of. Under most circumstances it’s important to keep the care receiver in the loop. Not discussing plans with them may make it seem more unsettling and maybe even more uncomfortable for the person receiving care.  If you have any questions, or want to discuss holding a family meeting please call us at 952 884-1128, or email us at

Q. What are some issues and situations that are often overlooked by caregivers? What are the problems that might not be anticipated?”

A. Here’s some information you may not have considered:

• Caring for another person isn’t just buying some different, or extra food, or picking up prescriptions. While you might have to purchase extra food, it might also be different than you’re used to buying, cooking, or they’re used to eating. Maybe there’s a special diet that’s required? Does the food need a different preparation?
Certain prescriptions may need to be purchased and they might be costly. Maybe you must buy specific supplies that aren’t covered by insurance. There’s also having to rearrange your home, or the patient’s home. And then there’s your employer, if you’re working.

• How accommodating is your workplace and/or employer? Sometimes you can take time off to provide caregiving services to a family member by using the Family and Medical Leave Act; you need to check and see if you’re eligible. Other times you might have to use your vacation and/or sick time, and other times you might be able to get the time off, but without pay. Some employers will allow you to work from home or make certain adjustments to your hours. And even if this is possible, it may not be enough, or may not be as much time as you feel you need. For some jobs adjusting hours and the actual location of work may not be feasible.

• Do you feel you need to be around the patient all the time? Do they want you around all the time? How will you get a break? This is important for both the care giver and care receiver. Too many times this leads to burnout of the caregiver, or the care receiver being upset when you aren’t available all the time.

Questions to ask yourself:

• What are the concerns and worries of the care receiver? Have I discussed these issues with them? And if your answer’s “no”, what’s getting in the way?

• What prevents me from getting other people to pitch in and help? How do I get others to understand the situation from my point of view?

• How can family and friends divide the tasks, keep everyone informed, and keep the care receiver safe, cared for and happy?

Helpful Tips: Make sure to talk with people. Start with the care receiver first, if you can. You’ll then have more information to share with others as you move forward. Next talk with family and friends, and possibly others, if appropriate. Gathering and sharing information lessens your burden. You can also consider what you need help with and think of ways to ask for it.


And, what if you don’t even have family around, and you’re the one that worries about when you get old and need help? Here’s an interesting article to think about that situation, and maybe one that someone you know is going through. Here’s the original article with the link to

What It Means to Be an Elder Orphan

I’m an elderly person with no children, siblings, or parents. I need more resources to navigate major life decisions.

Dec 18, 2018

I’m an “elder orphan,” a solo ager, someone who is aging alone. That may sound depressing until you learn that the American Geriatrics Society calls me and my ilk “unbefriended.” Yikes.

An elder orphan is someone “of an age” who has no immediate family in their life. No parents, spouse, siblings, children, or grandchildren. They may have immediate family, but the relatives live too far away to be of assistance in times of crisis. There’s another scenario, as in my case, where my immediate family and I are estranged. This means there is no one to help me with major life decisions as I age, such as moving into a smaller home or to a warmer climate. There’s no one to take care of me when I’m sick or incapacitated (mentally or due to a fall or accident). No one to help manage daily chores, including shopping and writing checks to pay bills. In a worst-case scenario, someone who doesn’t know me might be tasked with making emergency medical decisions on my behalf, including choices I might not have made. Fortunately, I’m in fairly good health, and I see my doctors on a regular basis to help keep me that way. But still, I worry.

Statistics are woefully inadequate when it comes to how many of us elder orphans there actually are, though data suggests that elder orphans — not including those with estranged families — may represent 16 to 20 percent of the U.S. population. By 2035, people who are 65 and older will outnumber people under 18 for the first time in history.

That’s not that especially far from now, and I can attest that the United States is woefully unprepared for the reality of more elder orphans. Anthony Sahlender, an executive associate at the Maryland Department of Aging, says elder orphans are a growing concern, especially “when people don’t have the ability to make medical decisions.” When someone hasn’t named a guardian, they become a ward of the state, and an expense.

And yet there are not many places I can go for information on navigating the elder orphan life. So, for the most part, I find myself turning to Facebook, where my peers have created dozens of pages dedicated to the solo-aging population. It’s in these groups that I am told what kinds of questions I need to start asking myself and what parts of my life I need to get in order.

For example: Who do I list as my emergency contact? Who will have my power of attorney? Who will take care of my pets when I can’t? If I have a medical procedure, who will drive me to and from the appointment and stay with me for the night? Where do my financial assets go when I die?

“The upside of living alone means there’s no one to tell me not to eat a double scoop of ice cream.”
The questions are fair, though the process of thinking through the logistics of my lonesomeness can feel dark. There’s also not much being done to help me and others prepare. The state of Maryland is working on a unique Senior Call Check program, where anyone age 65 or older can sign up to receive a daily call at a set time to make sure the person is awake and functioning. Some individual civic and religious groups also have such programs, but Maryland’s is a first for a state-based initiative. Another telephone reassurance option is available through Programs for Elderly, where scheduled calls can be made to check in on elderly individuals.

But even if I were to set up such a service for myself, most programs require a contact person “in case of emergency.” Finding or naming someone who can be available at a moment’s notice is hard when none of your options are family members.

While this may all sound disheartening — insert a woeful sigh here — there are also a lot of advantages to living alone and unattached. I ran an unofficial survey on a Facebook page dedicated to elder orphans, and my fellow “unbefriendeds” came up with a few benefits. “My time is my own to do as I wish,” wrote a jewelry designer from San Diego. “I can change my mind at the last minute. In a word, independence.”

“I’m not mired in dysfunctional dynamics from which there is no escape,” a nurse said. Another woman in the group added, “No one asking for loans for a home, car, or other worthwhile or worthless reason.”
For me, the upside of living alone means there’s no one to tell me not to eat a double scoop of ice cream, which I know I shouldn’t do, but what the heck? I don’t have to answer to anyone.

Of course, the obvious downside is the possibility of loneliness. But for me, that’s a matter of perspective. Realizing you’re not dependent upon someone else to entertain you is empowering. I keep busy with traveling, attending seminars or classes, or volunteering. I am happy and fulfilled. Sure, being an elder orphan means living alone, but it doesn’t mean you’re lonely.

written by
Judy Colbert

Ask a Question

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *