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{ } AGING with an Attitude In Caregiving: Giving Your Best Is Not Enough Dorie Sugay is the Executive Director of Visiting Angels, a company that provides living-assistance services to seniors and adults-in-need who wish to stay in their own home or receive one-on-one care within a facility. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It was written independently of Visiting Angels. 82 P rofessional caregivers come to understand all that the work entails during the course of their training. They go into it with their eyes open. But what happens when you take on the role of caregiver, not by training, but by virtue of a family situation? Things seem manageable at first. Then comes the unexpected. Mom or Dad is diagnosed with dementia or another debilitating illness. The challenges can be overwhelming in some cases. So you do your best, learning by doing. But in caregiving, giving your best is not enough. You must do something else - you must stay committed to your- self – your needs, your goals and your dreams. It is not healthy to jump into caregiving with the idea that you will put your life on hold, even though it may be noble to do so. It is healthy to make sure you continue to have a L-I-F-E even if it’s a toned-down version of what you had before you got the call. Your effort to have a life does not need to be elaborate. A break from caregiving duty (regularly please) will help. And when you take a break – it can be as simple as giving yourself time to take a leisurely walk without worrying about what is happening to your loved one. “But they need me and I don’t trust a stranger to come into my parents’ home,” you say. Parents typically prefer to have a family member as caregiver, rather than someone they are not related to. But just as parents are not supposed to focus solely on their children while neglecting their marital relationships, you should not focus solely on your parents while neglecting your own needs. You have got to continue to stay in touch with others and have a life outside of your parents’ world! If your siblings dubbed you sole caregiver for your parents, you need to insist on shared responsibility – you owe it to yourself! No one should test someone’s love in this way, it is not fair. Some family caregivers quit their career to take care of their parents. Okay – maybe you need to be “at work” but you still deserve a break. We call it respite… a sanity break. Love has nothing to do with it either. Caregiving can be very try- ing. People with stressful jobs recognize the need for a break. Caregiving is no different. If siblings can’t step in, there are GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016 local in-home health care companies that have great references. You worry about a stranger coming to the house; but agencies are now required to ensure that their caregivers are registered with the state in which they are employed. To be registered in the State of California requires FBI and Department of Justice clearances AND these agencies check records from age 18. You can feel comfortable that there is much less chance of unknowingly hiring a care- giver “from the dark side.” Furthermore, all agencies are now required to also provide their caregivers with continuous education. There are qualified caregivers out there who can look after your parents while you take care of yourself. Don’t give up your goals! If before your parents needed you, you were planning to learn how to paint – go for it. And please, don’t expect the people in your life to abandon their goals either. It really is unwise to put life on hold because your Mom or Dad needs you now. Strive for some balance in your life, or you will not have much to give to your parents, your spouse, your kids or anyone else. There’s no way to know how long or how tough the journey of caregiving will be – if you don’t take care of yourself, you may become robotic, bitter or hard-hearted. An hour or two, or even a four-hour break will not hurt your Mom or Dad. Their illness or insecurity may prevent them from remembering that you have needs to, so it is up to you to look out for yourself. My son was my universe when he was growing up until he turned 14 and didn’t want me to give him a kiss in front of his classmates. That was a 4.5 on my Richter scale, a rude awakening. I realized he was growing up and wanted to live his own life. I knew I’d better get with it or I would feel lost. That’s why I’m encouraging you to keep on living even if your parents must depend on you. Get help from family and friends here and there if you are not ready to tap on agencies to help you. When you have a life outside of your parents’ world, you bring new energy to your caregiving efforts. And you know what—in the end, when your parents see that your life is full and you are happy, they’ll be more at ease and happier as well. In caregiving – giving your best is not enough…because you need to care and give to yourself to make the situation work best!