After decades of caregiving I’ve experienced some negative effects. However, I've also experienced positive effects that continue to give me pleasure and enhance my life. I saved the positive aspects of caregiving for the second article because, having recently written about the ill effects on our health caused by negative thinking, it seemed more authentic to me as a writer. Also, as a person, when possible I like to concentrate on the positive. Below are a few of the many things that I feel I have gained, and still am gaining, from long-term caregiving.
Positive effects of long-term caregiving
Compassion: While I like to think that I’ve always been a compassionate person, and I believe that maturity adds increased compassion to most of us simply because we’ve seem more suffering, caregiving can take compassion even farther. When we witness the suffering that many of our loved ones go through for weeks, months or even years before they die, we can’t help but have compassion for them and for others who suffer.
Empathy: Empathy is essential to good caregiving. More than compassion, empathy puts us in the place of the other person. What would it be like to not be able to make even simple choices anymore? What would it be like to not know if what is on TV is real or not? What would it be like to never have a day without confusion, pain, memory issues, frustration, and for many, fear? And what would it be like not to be able to communicate those feelings? Empathizing with our loved one can help us stand back and look for ways to comfort because, in a small way, we are allowing ourselves to truly understand what they are going through.
Satisfaction: It took me awhile to accept that my dad, who developed dementia after he had surgery, would never revert to his pre-surgery state. Also, I had to accept that I could not expect to always be able to soothe his fears or bring him out of a time of paranoia. However, I did learn to enjoy the satisfaction of times when I could feel that he was content. I will forever cherish the occasional moments of clarity when, out of nowhere, his brain momentarily cleared and Dad was himself. There’s great satisfaction in knowing that while I was far from perfect, I did my best and I do think I helped my dad and each of my other elders in the ways that they most needed help.
Creative solutions: The challenges of caring for multiple elders, several of whom had different types of dementia, encouraged me to find solutions to ever changing problems.
- When Dad thought Lawrence Welk had invited him to be a guest director on the TV show, I bought Dad a conductor’s wand to use while he watched the program.
- When he felt diminished because he couldn’t tip for his meals in the nursing home, I made him business cards to use instead.
- When my mother’s appetite almost completely disappeared, I discovered special cool foods that I kept in a cooler in her room.
Problems demanded solutions and my heart pushed me to find those solutions. The experiences have made me more solution oriented overall.
5. Career: While reading and writing have been huge parts of my life, I never thought I’d be leaving library work to make a career of caregivingand eventually writing about it. Talk about satisfaction. Sharing what I learned and learning even more from other caregivers has given me great life satisfaction.
Even though I wrote about five negative effects of long-term caregiving, and those negative aspects stand, I don’t regret doing what I did. Therewards for me overshadow the challenges by far. I won’t pretend that I feel that way every moment. There are tough times. But in the end caregiving was what I was meant to do and I feel grateful to have been given the opportunities to help a few people as their lives came to a close.
Carol is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at www.mindingourelders.com_ and_www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook:_ Minding Our Elders