4 Ways to Combat Caregiver Helplessness

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Helplessness is a common -- and frustrating -- emotion for many caregivers, especially those dealing with a disease beyond their control, such as dementia, Parkinson's, or advanced cancer. You've done what you can. But you can't change the course of the awful disease.

What helps:

1. Avoid self-blame. Red-flag phrases you should quit thinking: "If only I. . . ." "I should have. . . ." "Why didn't I. . . ?" This is a form of negative thinking that has no upside. You can't change the past. You did the best you could, and made the best decisions you could, based on the information before you at the time.

2. Recognize that, sometimes, you can only stand by -- and that's OK. Remember that sometimes there's a time for action and a time for inaction. "Doing nothing" isn't synonymous with "not caring." You wouldn't feel such anguish if you didn't care so much.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

3. Instead of feeling frustrated about what you can't do, focus on all the good you've already done for your loved one. It's no small or unnecessary thing to grant yourself some peace of mind from acknowledging that you've done much that's worthwhile and beneficial, and probably have done so for a very long time.

4. Turn your energies to improving quality of life. How can you make your loved one more comfortable? How can you help him or her feel safe and secure? Does the person still have the mental capacity to focus on the legacy he or she hopes to leave behind?

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 3 years, said...

These are all such good points to make. Thank you Paula for giving us a "list" to watch for, with the appropriate suggestions!

over 5 years, said...

Wonderful, soothing thoughts. I know in my heart that I am doing the best that I can for the wonderful man who has been my soul mate for 57 joyous years. He still makes me happy though he does not know it. He may not know me but I know him.

over 5 years, said...

So right! All you can do is that very best that you can and let it go. If I did wrong I pray for forgiveness. I can say that I'm proud of myself for the care I'm giving Mom and that care that I gave Dad. Is it perfect? Probably not, Would is ever be perfect? Probably not. We don't live in a perfect world so lets not loose focus. Treasure the moments. Don't cry that it's over, smile because it happened.. Love and hugs to all.

over 6 years, said...

Excellent article...when I am feeling weary watching my mother's decline I love these short articles that just give me a simple list of things to think about. I cannot wade through lengthy information at this point. Keep these articles coming!! Thank you! And...to all my fellow caregivers... I'm thinking of you today as I go to see my mom...knowing I'm not in this "boat" alone does help as well.

over 6 years, said...

My father is suffering more rapid decline of physical and cognitive function. I am an Occupational Therapist who has dealt with dementia for 22 years, yet it is just "different" while caring daily for my father. I keep wondering what I could have done to slow this progressive illness and why can't he "just hear me." at times. Then I am terribly ashamed for even having the thought. It is helpful just to be reminded not to worry 24/7. Thank you all.

over 6 years, said...

We started taking care of Dad (dementia) 11 years ago. Mom already had memory issues, so this meant taking over both their lives. Other than watching my strong, intelligent, loving father die over four long years, the biggest issue I had was guilt - guilt because I couldn't help him, because I didn't see them often enough, because he thought I was letting him down - so many things. Hospice' grief counseling (free to caregivers) was a Godsend to me. I now know I waited far too long to take advantage of it. I finally realized that we did everything we could for Dad, that his dementia was not my fault, and that we went to great lengths to make his final years as comfortable as possible. I urge any caregiver to take advantage of this free counseling as soon as possible. I believe I could have dealt with my guilt feelins far earlier if I had done so.

over 6 years, said...