Managing First-Time Caregiving Expectations

Friday, February 19, 2021

When you become a caregiver – especially for the first time – it’s essential to manage your expectations of the situation, says Cindy Wirth, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury, a memory care assisted living community in Sudbury, MA.

“Caregiving is a very trying role, and can lead to fatigue, stress, burnout and the loss of your sense of self,” she says. “Because of this, it’s important for caregivers to understand the obstacles before them and set realistic expectations for what they can accomplish. Providing care for another person has the potential for burnout, stress, fatigue and losing sight of your own personal life, especially if you have unrealistic expectations or goals.”

Setting healthy boundaries and understanding what you can realistically accomplish will help caregivers gain a sense of balance and avoid feelings that “they’re not accomplishing enough.”

“Let’s be frank: caregiving is a difficult journey, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect,” says Cindy. “Take a deep breath, do your research and set modest expectations for yourself. This will help you feel more secure and allow you to reach your goals without overstretching – which will lead to you providing better care for your loved one and yourself.”

Understand what you’re fighting.

Knowledge is power, so whatever it is that your loved one has – cancer, dementia or another health condition – it’s essential that you learn as much as you can about it. By understanding the journey and the stages your loved one will go through, you’ll be better able to predict their needs and also be better prepared for the future.

A good way to start your knowledge journey is by speaking to your loved one’s physician about the situation. Ask him or her about the different symptoms, signs, side effects and other issues you can expect as their condition progresses.

Next, hit the internet. These days, you can find a plethora of information available with a few clicks of a mouse. You’ll also be able to find various nonprofits, support groups and other organizations focused on the exact situation you and your loved one are facing. This will provide you with valuable information but can also put you in touch with others who have experienced the same things you have. This first-hand, personal experience can be a great boon as you walk your caregiving journey.

Be realistic about your loved one’s state of mind.

When we first take up our role as caregiver, we may imagine scenarios where our loved ones are gracious and thankful for all you’re doing for them. However, the reality may not always align with that rose-colored image in your head. He or she will be cranky. They may be reclusive and sullen. They may snipe at you and treat you poorly instead of thanking you for all the help you’re giving them. Expect this, and prepare yourself to be okay with this. Remember that your loved one’s health condition is what’s causing them to react in this way. It’s in no way, shape or form a reflection on how you’re performing as a caregiver. Give yourself grace, and give your loved one grace, too.

Be ready to say “no.”

It’s hard to say “no” when you’re a caregiver. However, your loved one may ask or wish to do something that would be unsafe, unreasonable or unattainable. It’s your job as their caregiver to make sure they are getting the best care possible – even if they don’t necessarily want to do what you’re asking. Depending on your situation, you may need to come up with reasons as for why you’re doing/not doing what they ask – or you may need to discover tools to redirect the individual’s attention. This can be very difficult, but remember that it is your role to protect your loved one, which can mean acting against their wishes.

Ask for help.

First-time caregivers often leap into their role with both feet, expecting to be able to do everything themselves. Surprise: it’s not possible. Really. The worst thing you can do as a caregiver is to take on all the responsibilities by yourself. This is a sure-fire recipe for burnout, fatigue, stress and breakdowns. Take a hard look at your workload and abilities and be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Remember, you have a life outside of caregiving, and you can’t simply push it aside. Instead, look for resources like family members, friends and professional caregivers to help shoulder the load so you can provide the best possible quality of life for your loved one (and yourself).

Don’t forget self-care.

Another thing first-time caregivers often do is neglect their own health and well-being. You can’t be a good caregiver without first taking care of yourself, however. So, every day it’s important to take a step back from caregiving and do something that’s inspiring and uplifting for yourself. Whether it’s taking a walk in your favorite park, reading a book or doing a 30-minute yoga class, you need to carve out time in your day to recharge your personal batteries so you can be the best caregiver possible.

Remember your other relationships.

You’re a caregiver, yes – but you’re also a friend, spouse, parent and professional. Just as it’s important to set expectations for your caregiving role, it’s equally important for you to do the same for your personal, family and professional relationships. Set clear expectations throughout your life and relationships in order to help reduce the strain on your family and other compatriots. One of the best ways to begin doing this is by simply asking others for their assistance, thoughts and help. You’ll discover that you have many people in your life who want to help out and are just waiting for you to ask to provide the assistance they can.

“Being a caregiver is a demanding job, but it doesn’t have to completely define you,” says Cindy. “Remember to take a deep breath and look at situations objectively instead of reacting emotionally. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a step back and ask for help from a professional. You’re doing the best you can – and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Exceptional Care & Engaging Lifestyle

Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury provides exceptional memory care in a comfortable and engaging environment. Designed specifically to support those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, our community delivers a wellness-focused lifestyle that respects individual preferences and abilities. Our teams receive ongoing, specialized training so they may help residents to safely exercise their independence in a secure, calm environment.

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Our expert dementia care and comprehensive services are tailored to meet the unique needs of our residents, wherever they are on their journey with memory loss. Our life-enrichment programs are personalized to residents’ interests and abilities, providing joy and meaning in daily life and enhancing emotional well-being.

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Bridges® by EPOCH at Sudbury is more than a safe, beautiful place to live; it’s truly a home, where compassionate, dementia-educated caregivers help people with memory loss live more fulfilling lives. Our research-based design features soft lighting and colors, non-glare flooring, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to comfortably move about their home with confidence.

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