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Balance care responsibilities


Balancing caregiving responsibilities with other aspects of life and (in many cases) work is one of the most difficult things about being a caregiver. This article offers some steps for achieving this balance.

The importance of caregiving-life balance

Balancing caregiving responsibilities with other aspects of life and (in many cases) work is one of the most difficult things about being a caregiver. It is also one of the most important. When caregivers let their caregiving duties take over their lives, they are likely to suffer from stress, burnout, and poor physical and mental health. Their relationships with partners, children, and friends can become strained and break down. Caregivers may even die prematurely from the toll of caregiving. 

For these reasons, it is vital for the caregiver to create a routine that allows caregiving-life balance. Some key ways to do this are to work with a care plan, set and protect boundaries and limits, and get outside help.

Work with a care plan 

A care plan is a document or spreadsheet that lists the care tasks, all the people willing to help with caregiving, and which members of this team will carry out which tasks. One part of the care plan is naming a different person to monitor and coordinate each major caregiving area—medications, meals, transportation, companionship, and so on. Spreading out the burden of caregiving in an organized way can bring the primary caregiver enormous relief and make it easier to achieve a good caregiving-life balance.

Within care plans, primary caregivers commonly give themselves most or all of the scheduling and organizing work (including creating, maintaining, and amending the care plan!). However, these tasks are very time-consuming, and some caregiving experts recommend that the primary caregiver delegate at least some of them to other members of the team.1 Organizational tasks can be ideal for members of the care team who live too far away to help much with hands-on care.

Set and protect boundaries and limits

Boundaries are self-protective decisions about how you will allow people to treat you. Limits are self-protective decisions about what you will and will not do. It is very important for caregivers to get a clear understanding of what their boundaries and limits are. They then need to decide on action steps they will take to protect those boundaries and limits, and communicate them clearly to the person receiving care and other family members. 

The built-in pressures of caregiving and family relationships can make it very hard to maintain boundaries and limits. One way to make it easier is to write out and rehearse scripts for conversations about particularly difficult situations or with people who tend to disrespect boundaries. Being well-prepared for these conversations can help you stay calm and on topic. Remembering to mention what you will accept and do, as well as what you won’t, will remind others that they have options. If boundaries and limits are frequently crossed, it is useful to call in a family mediator to help the family get beyond dysfunctional dynamics to agreement. 

Get outside help

Finding and using outside help is a necessary piece of any sustainable caregiving plan. While a team made up of family and friends can do a lot, caregiving duties can easily overwhelm the group as a whole and throw everyone’s lives out of balance. And the simple fact is, even the most well-organized set of people has limited time and energy. 

There is a wide range of outside support available for caregivers. These include:

  • Respite care, offered by many care homes and other facilities
  • Adult day care centers
  • Companion caregivers
  • Personal care aides

For those who can afford it, hiring a geriatric care manager can also lift many responsibilities off the primary caregiver’s plate, including scheduling and evaluation needs. For families with limited budgets, it can be worthwhile to set aside a small amount each week to pay for a partial day of adult day care or a half-day of a personal care aide’s services. If that is not doable, caregivers might consider setting up a local “caregivers’ pod” made up of other caregivers in the neighborhood who rotate in to give each other a break.2

Related information

Adult day care

Anticipate impacts on your personal life

Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable 

Avoid delayed decisions and discord

Create a care plan

Deal with caregiver burnout

Deal with caregiver depression

Find trusted sources of help

Get help and support

Join a caregiver community

Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration

Take care of yourself emotionally

Take care of yourself physically

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