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Processing the Mixed Emotions of Caregiving

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Caring for a senior loved one can sometimes seem like a contradiction. Interestingly, research conducted by the Home Instead® network confirms the mixed emotions that characterize this important job. Hiding one’s feelings only complicates the issues, this research confirms.

Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of family caregivers who hide their feelings are overwhelmed, but that same percent of caregivers also feel loved. Or consider this: 64 percent feel anxious while these same caregivers feel satisfied.

Caregiving expert Dr. Amy D’Aprix says caregivers should try to avoid classifying emotions as good and bad. “Just recognizing it’s normal to feel many emotions when you’re a family caregiver helps take the power away from the emotion.”

In her Ask Dr. Amy column, Dr. D’Aprix advises a family caregiver, whose husband has been living with the later stages of pancreatic cancer for a year, to reach out to others as a way to help deal with these varying and sometime conflicting emotions. While the caregiver loves caring for her husband, the lack of any help or even a kindness extended her way has left the caregiver drained.

Dr. D’Aprix notes: “Often with family members, we feel they should step forward without being asked. Yet, having worked for many years with older adults and their families, I can tell you that it is very common for family members to need to be asked to provide assistance.”

The key is to choose your words carefully. “If you all use email, you might do this in a group email. Make sure the tone is friendly and non-accusatory. I find it sometimes helpful to have someone not involved in the situation read the email to make sure it comes across as intended.”

Lack of support can diminish the satisfaction that many caregivers feel in their role of providing support for a loved one, leading to those mixed emotions of caregiving. “I know it can feel frustrating that family members don’t just jump in and provide care,” Dr. D’Aprix explains. “Often, I find family members are shocked that the primary caregiver needs help. They say things such as, ‘I had no idea, I thought they had everything under control!’ I encourage you to ask for help today.”

Dr. D’Aprix shares more insight into the conflicting emotions of caregiving and provides tips for eliminating some of the anxiety of the job.

Last revised: July 9, 2012

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 21, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Posted by joyce rohrer

    I have a husband who has progressive alzheimers. I am his caregiver(wife) 24/7. He was going to a daycare 1 day a wk. for 1yr and started in May 3 days a week at his dr. request. Last week he got very mad, threw a chair and tried to get out of the room, with other residents there, he can no longer go there. this is not the first time according to the workers but this was worse., Now he is home and I just am drained, I do have Office of Aging coming this week to help me to know what to do. Both of my children and family live close, but think dad is not that bad., physically he looks good. Thanks for allowing me to send this. Joyce


  2. March 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Posted by Joanne

    My family has been devested, emotionally and financially. My mother when getting older refused to leave the family home and go live with her daughters. She played one against the other even when healthy. My family said when she started signs of mind dimishing she did so even more. My sisters refused to care for her but I left my home and went to her. My sisters were jealous as she gave me property as they both had some. Things got worse and my mom charged me with assault, which costs money to prove my innonence. I have never seen my family since. It was a horrible time and they now tell me four yrs later I can visit. My mother was my world but she no longer knows anyone. I feel to see her past now would crush me. Do anyone have advise or experience with this. Will she ever remember me again?


  3. October 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Posted by marilyn harbin

    How many stages are there in Dementia?


  4. October 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Posted by Pam Millan

    After six yrs of caring for my husband with stroke induced Parkinson's, vascular dementia, and catastrophic reactions, I notice that friends and "family" have stopped calling or no one offers to help. My adult children expect me to hire help and avoid being involved at all cost. The burden has fallen on me alone. I started off well....but his slow decline is beginning to take its toll. I am a very healthy 64 yr old but that is because I exercise and eat healthy because there is no one else to step up.


  5. October 25, 2012 at 11:03 am | Posted by Doris Larson

    My husband has Primary progressive MS & dementia, although he appears somewhat cognitive, I had no choice to place him in a facility just over a year ago, I visit six days a week and talk to him via cell phone often in a day. His entire family and it is large, have not spoken to me since. When I needed them mist, they abandoned me and sent me hate mail. I feel so depressed and lonely.


  6. August 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Posted by Sylvia Rivera

    My mother has been living with me and my husband for almost 3 years now. Its been very roller coaster ride of emotions trying to care for her. Familly support and financial support are very limited. I just don't have the heart to put her in a nursing home, even though I think about it alot, especially on the nights that she does sleep, which is the hardes for me. I believe if she were able to sleep, then I would sleep and wake up so emotionally exhausted! Can sleeping aids be givien? She has many illnesses and is bed-ridden 24/7.


  7. July 14, 2012 at 12:27 am | Posted by Jacque

    Thank you for this opening this door that I tend to hide behind.


  8. July 13, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Posted by caissg

    the mixed emotions are an understatement. As a young, male, spousal caregiver there are so many feelings. The first one being fighting stereotypes labeled against you because you are a young, male, spouse. Most just leave. Second, it is extremely hard to find someone to talk to who can relate in the same peer group. Caring for grandma and caring for your spouse in a young marriage are two very different sets of emotions. Ironically the only ones who know is the health care system and they have no formal support system for the caregiver. Maybe they are waiting for the caregivers to become patients to make more money off of them. or maybe its plain apathy for the caregivers.


  9. July 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Posted by S R

    As caregivers, I have learned for myself that we need to care for ourselves,eat well and stay healthy too and to be able to take a break from time to time, vent to a friend of acquaintance (who is not family). Do not be afraid to tell others who ask if they can help, how they can help --even if that is only for a few minutes, hours or a day..take the help as offered and do not hesitate to talk to local specialists in your area: In Ontario we also have VON (Victorian Order of Nurses) nurses, local Red Cross (who do things like foot clinics etc) and community care groups. Also remember to talk to the doctor, minister or priest or rabbi - often times your supports will also know other people who can aid and help with the care giving at little or not cost. Also check our local municipal , city, provinical or state help -- esp if you are older, there is sometimes free help out there. And ask questions of the local assoiation for whatever disease or syndrome that your family or friend if suffering with - they also have many support groups


  10. July 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Posted by nancy guenthner

    I have worked in the caregiving field pertaining to the senior population for over 11 years. I have consistently allowed myself to become educated with the many stages and types of dementia, recognizing symtoms of dementia/alzheimers disease, and the many resources that are made available to caregivers. I am not saying that I am the perfect caregiver, I am always learning, however, my best teacher is the individual of whom I care for and their friends and family. For three years, I have been the caregiver of my mom who has dementia. I also have been the ear for my dad to speak to in his times of anxiety, stress, and depression. It has been a slow process acquainting him to my mom's disease, recognizing her disease, and then finally admitting that she has dementia. She has other medical conditions aligned with dimentia such as lupus, conjestive heart failure, and COPD, as well as high blood pressure and various mini strokes. Pertaining to dealing with anxiety and stress, I find that identifying why I am stressed and what the stresser really is is leads to the treatment plan for that moment. I take stressers and anxiety on a moment to moment basis. That is what helps me. Nancy Guenthner [email protected]


  11. July 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Posted by lois healey

    please send me article on mixed emotions thank you


  12. July 13, 2012 at 12:14 am | Posted by J Sabo

    my wife who i feel has dementia constantly argues and fights with me. I cannot do anything to make her happy. My daughter says she has short term memory loss. This has been going on for almost 3 years now. Ever since she had back surgery which left her with constant pain on her left side. After a seizure because of heavy pain meds. The doctors say she has the brain of a 95 year old women. She is 78.she would not be able to survise if i did not take care of her


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