Over 20 years of clinical practice has taught me that caregivers experience a full range of emotions in their new role. We really do not have a manual or guide on how “how to be a great caregiver” growing up so the role of caregiver is often learned as we go. This can be difficult and challenging for many of us.
One of the primary emotions experienced by most caregivers is a sense of guilt. Guilt probably stems from the feeling that “I should be doing more and I should be able to take care of mom or dad in my home.” The emotion is typically confronted by the reality that a caregiver may also have a full time job, several kids, a family, and no room at home to provide such care.
Simultaneously, and particularly in the case of parents, the caregiver realizes that the parent cared for him or her and deserves the same in return. These really represent the core issues and thoughts the breed guilt. The feeling of guilt is universal and quite normal. It reflects love and compassion for a family member. It can also cause the caregiver many sleepless nights, depression, anger, etc.
In my practice, I try to provide the caregiver a chance to talk about what he or she is experiencing. I always let the caregiver know how normal guilt is and that the most important decision for care of an older person is safety. So often, a parent may be in need of 24-7 supervision, increased structure, socialization opportunities, and clinical attention. Most children cannot meet these needs, particularly on a 24-7 basis.
Time is helpful to the caregiver guilt, as children will see that most settings provide excellent and compassionate care within a safe environment. It is important for the caregiver to find time for him or herself and to not let guilt drive their decisions such as how often to visit. I will make recommendations to caregivers to not visit so often when I believe the behavior is causing more problems.
A decision to place a loved one such as a parent into assisted living or long-term care is very difficult. All caregivers can know that guilt is a primary and normal emotion with such decisions. Safety needs to be the most important factor in the decision-making process and time will help to heal the feelings of guilt. Caregivers need to create their own time for respite and to monitor their emotional health throughout.