If you’re a caregiver of an aging adult who suffers from dementia, take a brief moment out of your current activities and mental flow to read the following statements. Read them one at a time, and be open to and aware of your reactions or responses—mental, physical, and emotional.
- I don’t want my aging loved one suffering from dementia to know when I’m frustrated, over tired, or overwhelmed by caregiving.
- I should be strong enough to put my aging loved one and their dementia care first.
- No one around me really understands what I’m going through or how hard it really is to care for an aging loved one who has dementia.
Unless those statements slide right past you without any push, pull, twinge, or flutter of feeling, chances are good that you could benefit from processing through your experiences with caregiving. Perhaps your challenges are internal—you’re stressed, depressed, or fearful around aspects of caregiving or your life on the outskirts. Or perhaps your challenges are external—you’re struggling with your aging loved one’s emotions or communication between the two of you, or you’re at a loss for how you should be approaching your tasks more effectively.
However your imbalance shows up, you may benefit from engaging in counseling for dementia caregivers. This compassionate help for caregivers of dementia patients flips the typical pattern of you attending to another’s needs and offers critical attention to your needs, which could never truly be considered unimportant or even less important.
The Barriers to Caregiver Counseling Services
Regardless of our roles in life, it’s common for people to come up against resistance to the idea of seeking counseling or other mental health therapy. Sometimes that resistance even creates a strong enough boundary so that people don’t get the help that could really make a difference in their own lives and the lives of people around them.
Dementia caregiver stress and burnout can be a primary reason why individuals may need help from a therapist and also a driving reason why they do not seek that help. Seeking help and then accessing help may just seem like extra items on an already overwhelming list of expectations. Additionally, caregiver stress can be difficult enough, and you may be resistant to digging up more of the challenges that therapy would encourage.
But one common experience of caregiver burnout is that the stress piles up and gets pushed down so more can pile up. Avoiding it does not take it away; avoiding it makes the stress and suffering even heavier. Depression in caregivers of dementia is a very real and serious condition that could benefit immensely from on-going therapeutic attention.
It can absolutely be difficult to find the time and the detachment from your aging loved one to pursue this kind of help, even if deemed important. But there are always resources and services that can support specific challenges and alleviate dementia caregiver stress. In fact, there are even opportunities for a knowledgeable therapist to come to you.
Another accessible possibility to give you some important free time is respite care. It’s intended as an opportunity for a caregiver to step away—regularly or occasionally—knowing that their loved one is in capable and compassionate hands until they return. One significant result of therapy may even be a greater ability to tap into the help of family members to occasionally share care of your aging loved one with dementia. Sometimes a stressed-out caregiver’s greatest asset is the rest of the family who may not even know they’re struggling. Those opportunities for help can free you up to take better care of yourself.
The Benefits of Counseling for Dementia Caregivers
Think of counseling as just one more resource to add to your dementia caregiver’s toolbox. But don’t underestimate the powerful potential it can have to improve your health, your relationships, and especially your relationship with yourself. There are different avenues to accessing these benefits: You could seek individual sessions with a therapist or psychologist, family counseling for dementia challenges, or a caregiver support group—either in person or through an online support community. Committing to more than one of these paths can be even more beneficial.
Here is some of the help and healing you may find from caregiver counseling:
- Normalize complicated feelings that inevitably arise within caregiving scenarios and family dynamics around dementia.
- Redirect experiences of guilt, resentment, and defeat into more constructive feelings.
- Process your grief around the shifting roles in your family and the changes your loved one may be going through in their mind, abilities, and personality.
- Improve communication between you and your aging loved one.
- Establish expectations, agreements, and strategies to better share the responsibilities that come with family caregiving.
- Improve your ability to stay grounded in what’s really going on for you, especially amid the stress and heavy responsibilities of caregiving.
- Learn how to set boundaries—emotionally and practically—around your caregiver relationship.
A therapist can help you to see that, while it’s immensely important for you to allow yourself space to experience the feelings that arise, they are only feelings. Often, what happens when we try to resist or avoid certain feelings altogether is that those feelings build up even more strongly. We may even start to identify with those feelings or feel controlled by them.
But, by their very nature, feelings are experiences to pass through with awareness. Some feelings and experiences bring up greater challenges for us than others, but—especially if we have help and support on our way through these challenges—they don’t have to throw us off balance or keep us stuck and suffering.
All of this supported self-work certainly improves your ability to be a balanced, compassionate, and effective caregiver of an aging loved one with dementia. But just as importantly, it improves your holistic health and well-being for your own sake.
Are you still unsure if caregiver counseling is right for you or how you might go about finding support in that way? Give us a call, and we’d be happy to help you navigate toward those resources. At Institute on Aging, we make it our mission to help caregivers and aging adults thrive together.