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Caregivers need care too

Reading Time: 5 minutes
"by " Elizabeth Lande


It's a lovely experience to spend large amounts of time providing nurturing, medical assistance or daily help for someone you love. But it can also be complicated: a daughter takes over caregiving for an elderly parent, with a de facto role reversal. A loving spouse evolves from being a romantic partner to acting as a nurse. A teen provides "babysitting" for Grandma. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40 million people provide unpaid care in the US, with the vast majority caring for an aging parent. About 20% of caregivers provide daily care, and half of people providing care juggle this responsibility with a full-time job.¹ If you know someone who takes care of an aging – or otherwise needy – relative who seems overwhelmed at times, it's no wonder. While generally it's rewarding to serve a loved one, sometimes it can be a bit much.

That's why at HearingLife we are pleased to celebrate loved ones every day. We're always happy when our patrons bring a loved one for their hearing assessments* or other services. We happily partner with you to help caregivers meet the needs of people with hearing loss.

Many people call it "the oxygen rule" because they know the term from countless flight safety demonstrations, where flight attendants instruct you to use the oxygen mask before helping those around you. As a caregiver, you may feel like you can't take time for yourself because your loved one's needs are so demanding and you may get burned out. But the oxygen rule does apply! In fact, the Cleveland Clinic defines "caregiver burnout"² as:

"Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able, physically or financially."

By making the effort to identify and address your own needs, you can help ease the burden you feel as caregiver. Fortunately, the vast majority of caregivers say that they find it rewarding, with only 32% find it stressful.¹

Feel like a panini? A sandwich-generation life

Are you feeling like a panini or a "sandwich" smashed between two generations? To one generation, you are giving care to help elderly parents. At the same time, you are parenting your own children. This is sometimes called the "sandwich generation." Sandwich-generation caregivers often feel pulled in multiple directions. Perhaps your children have a school commitment at the same time your elderly parent needs to see a doctor. Or, your elderly parent needs help, but you have no one to watch your own children at home. You may find yourself getting frustrated by multiple needs at once.

While most caregiving happens in the form of practical help, such as running errands, housework or home repairs,¹ some caregiving can be more demanding. Sometimes the need happens with little planning or thought for how the responsibilities will fit into a caregiver's already demanding life, especially if you are a parent.

If you are feeling "sandwiched," keep in mind that you aren't alone in this growing trend. Nearly half of adults between ages 40 and 59 have a child that they support and have a parent over age 65.³ As Boomers get older, Generation Xers are becoming the group most likely to fall in this category.

Often our professionals interact with caregivers as much as with their parents, if they have hearing loss. Perhaps you have wondered why you need to accompany a parent to a hearing assessment. Hearing care providers may ask you take part in the familiar word testing, and this may be even more important if your parent speaks a language other than English as their mother tongue.

We have plenty of information for caregivers of people with hearing loss. For some seniors, dexterity is an issue. Ideally, everyone should be able to do this themselves, but our providers are happy to show caregivers how to change batteries, keep their devices clean and give tips for communicating with a person with hearing loss. Fortunately, as a loved one, you will also reap the benefits of treating hearing loss by making it easier to communicate with your parent or loved one. 

During National Family Caregivers Month, HearingLife is pleased to assist people who help family members and others in need. We hope that you will take some of these steps to focus on yourself month this November. We encourage you to take time to:

  • Get fresh air every day! – No matter what the weather, especially if you are providing care for an infirm relative, go outside every day.

  • Do yoga or something relaxing – Whether you enjoy child's pose, or you like to read a book lying on a comfortable sofa, make sure you take time to relax.

  • Solicit help from friend – If you can't get out, ask a friend to come over and spend time with Mom and Dad, so you can do something for yourself.

  • Look into paid resources for help – Depending on your loved one's needs, Medicare may cover some in-home care. Take advantage of these benefits!

  • Don't let role-reversal get the best of you! – Whether you are caring for a parent, a spouse or even your own child, make an effort to enjoy your "original" relationship with them. If you care for a spouse, maybe have a candlelit dinner once a week, or if it is a parent you care for, ask them for advice sometimes.

  • When organizing an outing, pick something you enjoy, too. – If you must take your parent to a doctor's appointment, add lunch at your favorite restaurant.

  • Don't forget to address your own needs – Whether you are due for a haircut, a dental cleaning, or if you are considering addressing your own hearing loss by booking a complimentary hearing assessment, the oxygen rule still applies.

We appreciate it when a caregiver joins us for an appointment, helps a relative get to our offices or even calls with follow-up questions. You make it easier for us to help your loved one hear better. We hope you will take a little time to be extra kind to yourself during National Caregivers Awareness month. If you have questions and would like to speak with a provider, you can contact us for help.

¹ www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/18/5-facts-about-family-caregivers/. Accessed November 13, 2019. 

² https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout. Accessed November 13, 2019.

³ https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/. Accessed November 13, 2019.