Words Every Caregiver Should Avoid

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Here's one way of thinking that gets people in helping situations in trouble: saying words that can come back and haunt you -- or raise your stress level unnecessarily. For your own sake, try eliminating the following knee-jerk expressions from your vocabulary. Words really do have power.

  • Absolutes ("Always," "never")

    Words like always and never are dangerous, especially with regard to caregiving. Beware falling into absolutes: "I promised Mom we'd never put her in a nursing home." "I'm sorry I can't go to lunch, because I always feed Sam myself." Life, and especially caregiving, is full of shades of gray. Situations change. Your health matters. You just can't know what's coming, so protect yourself by staying flexible and open to help and change in any form.

  • "Shoulda, coulda, woulda, oughtta"

    These words are infamous guilt-builders. By dwelling on what you should have done, might have done otherwise, or ought to do, you heap expectations on yourself. You also risk ruminating on things that are over and done with and can't really be changed. The shoulda-couldas stir up unproductive feelings and don't help you move on with whatever the current reality may be.

  • "I don't mind" (when really you do)

    Caregivers are known for their big hearts and accommodating natures. The trouble is, this tendency can lead to taking on more and more when you really just can't. Practice saying "no" when you just can't do it, and each subsequent time will be a little easier.

See the ten warning signs of compassion fatigue.

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

almost 4 years, said...

I am very concerned about my wife’s mood swings. One moment she loves me with all the passion in the world. In a flash, as fast as leaving the room and returning she tries to pick a fight and ridicules me about anything and everything. I’ve done research on Bipolar disorder and BPD, Borderline Personality Disorder. She does have ALL the symptoms of BPD from what I have read. What would be the difference between the two and is there a treatment for BPD ? Also my wife is 57 years old, a six year cancer survivor and unfortunately she drinks more than she should. Caring and Concerned Husband, Lover and Caregiver

over 4 years, said...

My wife is morbidly afraid of being alone . I reassure by telling her I will never leave her alone. That absolute is comforting to her. Actually my promise is just the living out of our wedding vows given to each other 45 years ago. Life indeed shifts and changes and that is precisely why we ought to boldly state our promises and strive to keep them,no matter what happens.

over 4 years, said...

These are important ideas to help caregivers know that it is important take care of ourselves, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially.....if we don't, who will give care to the 'caretaker'? If family won't or can't, it might be necessary to hire 'care-sellers'...... or pay family to do things so the primary care giver can get a rest etc.

almost 5 years, said...

What makes it hard for me is that my mother appears coherent in public, as she only goes out when she's feeling well, so people don't see the emotional roller coasters, personal attacks, and difficult personality I have to deal with. Everyone has their opinion on how much more I should be doing.. taking her out more (she wanders so it's hard), taking her to the senior center (she said she hates being around old people even though she's 70), not letting her drive and selling her car (she gets lost walking, driving is NOT an option)...Everyone sees me as someone who provides room and board, but doesn't care about her socialization needs and they just can't understand and my mother is understandably in denial about her dementia. I just wish I had someone who understood whose hand I could hold, or have a cup of coffee with. I love this website, it has brought me much peace knowing there are others who DO understand despite my only brother's lack of empathy. Most, including my husband at times, see someone who can walk and talk and think there is no real problem, but psychologically it's so draining, while trying to raise my 8 year old and keep my marriage sane...it's anything but easy. I have to just forget what everyone one else wants, including mom, and do what I can when I can, otherwise I'm of no use to anyone.

over 5 years, said...

I also have found out never ask two things at once (like do you want pepperoni and sausage pizza, or meat lover's....you will probably get a "no' ask one at a time ...and the fewer words you use the better...and really be careful when talking about your loved one;s disease, make sure they cannot hear you. They know what"end of life means" and all the other cute little phrases we come up with, they are not deaf or not able to understand...they are very aware...they just can't express what they used to be able to...be sensitive, and make sure other around them are too....I had the rescue squad at my house, because my precious lady gets down on her knees, and I cannot get her up....I am a quad....so I have to have help....but while the gentlemen was in the living room, they all started talking about nursing homes, and I looked behind them, and there stood my honey, with a scared look on her face....and it took me a long while, after they we gone, to convince her she was not going to a nursing home. I can get pretty blunt, I just hold up my hand and shake my head no, most of the times that works...for the others that don't understand...either get them out of the area, or take your loved one by the arm and walk away, and give them a crusty look as you depart their presence. If they get their feelings hurt....tough...you are doing your job and you can talk to them later when you can do it privately. it's better they get upset, than your loved one hear what they are with out thought,.... saying. .

almost 6 years, said...

I just try and do my best each day and at night as I pray I thank the Lord for all my blessings.

over 6 years, said...

I found this article most helpful. After nearly 12 years of coping with my mother who has alzheimer's disease with vascular dementia as well as bringing up a family and working, I have found it difficult to see the wood from the trees. Guilt seems to figure largely and you don't dare say "I don't mind" going out to another emergency when you are quite exhausted mentally and physically. Perhaps it helps to say yes I could, should etc. have done things differently but I didn't and that's all right and I can forgive myself as I'm not perfect! No one is indispensible and so you can't always do everything!