During the years when we cared for my Mom and Dad, my sister and I were constantly tired. We had children, husbands, jobs and homes that also needed our time, energy and attention. Our exhaustion came in part from the daunting, endless lists of tasks that kept us running from morning ‘til night. Beyond our physical fatigue, we were worn down by the mental strain of worry, uncertainty, sadness and loss.
Helping, caring, worrying and doing so much affected our health. Our immune systems became depleted and both of us were frequently sick. Luckily, our migraines, sinus infections and depressions were relatively minor. Not everyone is so lucky. Research shows that the stress of caregiving can have serious consequences. It increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.
How did my sister and I avoid the more serious consequences of caregiver stress? It was by helping each other and by getting help from others. Handling tasks or problems on our own was always more difficult than when we had support. We learned to rely on Mom’s wise saying: “Many hands make light work!”
How to get help when you’re T-I-R-E-D
If you feel tired from the physical or mental strain of caregiving, try what my sister and I did.
Figure out what kind of help you require.
Ask for what you need.
Gratefully accept offers of help.
Hire helpers, if you can.
Get ready to seek and receive assistance by creating a “T-I-R-E-D List”. Write it on a sheet of paper or your hand-held planning device; on several 3x5 cards or post-it notes that you carry in your wallet, calendar or purse. Think of the acronym “T-I-R-E-D”: the Tasks, Information, Respite, Emotional support and Decisions with which you need help. Use the following statements and questions as you construct your list.
I need someone to help with day-to-day tasks: the physical care my loved one needs, yard or household chores, errands or transportation, personal finances, plant, pet or child care.
With which tasks could I use some help?
Who could help me accomplish these tasks?
I need help in finding out about my loved one’s condition, treatment, and prognosis, as well as the knowledge or skills I need to be an effective caregiver.
What information do I need to gather?
Who could help me obtain this information?
I need someone to help me get a break: for a few moments, for several hours on a given date, for one or several days “off-duty” or for an extended vacation.
How much respite time do I need?
Who could help me get this time for respite?
I need someone to be present to me and ask how I am doing, to listen to me with empathy, understanding and without judgment.
Who could offer me emotional support?
What will I say to ask them for emotional support?
I need someone to help me decide how to handle a situation, solve a problem, or navigate the health care, legal or insurance system.
With what specific decisions do I need help?
Who could help me make these decisions?
Refer to this list when someone with a kind heart offers to help you. Is no one offering? Consider hiring some help, if you can afford it…a neighborhood teen, a retired person, a professional with the set of skills you need. Or ask some kind-hearted family, friends or neighbors if they will help. Don’t be shy; people feel good about helping others. Just think of how good you often feel when caring for your loved ones. Go ahead; give the “T-I-R-E-D List” a try. You have nothing to lose but your fatigue.
Jane Meier Hamilton MSN, RN, a nurse for 35 years and family caregiver for 20 years, founded Partners on the Path www.partnersonthepath.org to help professional and family caregivers preserve their health, well-being and capacity to care. Read her book, Journey of a Lifetime: The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care (Infinity 2010) to learn sensible, effective ways to cope with your caregiver stress.