10 Things to Do as a Caregiver When You Feel You Are Not Keeping Up

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

Each week I visit my mother who is living with dementia in a nearby facility. During our last visit, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy. My mother’s pants were practically rags, her hair was hanging in her eyes waiting for a cut, and she was in need of a dentist appointment. If you also struggle with feelings of inadequacy, do not panic. There are things we can do to improve the situation.

Looking at the big picture.

Take a step back

Sometimes when you are very close to a situation, you can lose perspective. When this happens, it can be helpful to consider the larger issues related to caregiving, such as safety and comfort. For example, my mother’s pants were worn thin, but that is because those were her favorite pants that she insists on wearing every day. As long as her clothes are relatively clean, the bigger consideration should be her safety and happiness instead of how she looks.

Women talking on a couch.

Talk to your support system

Tell your friends and family when you are feeling inadequate. Most likely they have felt similar feelings and may have some suggestions that can reassure you. Sometimes it just feels good to talk about a situation, even if there are no magical solutions.

Woman getting a haircut.

Lower the bar

Oftentimes we make unrealistic expectations of the level of care that our loved one should be receiving. For example, after I had time take a step back and reflect on my mother’s condition and what I was feeling, I realized that my hair also needed to be cut and I was overdue on some of my own medical appointments. Keeping up with everything is rarely a reality for anyone.

To-do list

Break down the to-do list

When we are caring for another person, the to-do list can be overwhelming. There are some things that may need to happen right away, but other things can wait. Write down the items that need to happen immediately. Then if you break down that list into smaller items, it can make the list look more manageable.

Caregiver walking with senior.

Delegate when possible

While I am the primary caregiver for my mother, I have two very capable siblings. After my last visit with my mom, I asked my brother to make a dentist appointment for her. I asked my sister to buy my mom a pair of pants exactly like her favorites and ship them to me so I could switch the old ones out. I also reached out to the facility to make sure they encourage her to wear clean clothes whenever possible, acknowledging that sometimes it is a battle not worth fighting.

Smiling senior in a wheelchair.

Allow your loved one to live their own life

My mom is in her sixth year of dementia. For the first five years I tried to make every day good for her. If I called her and found and out someone had upset her, I would call the facility and try to correct the situation. Last year I realized that even with dementia, my mom deserves her own life. And life is not perfect. There are good days and bad days and nice people and mean people. I have learned to not try to make every day perfect for her and allow her to live more of her own life.

Man relaxing and drinking a cup of coffee.

Take a break

Taking a break when there is so much to do can seem counter-intuitive. However, this month I went away on two mini-vacations. It felt next-to-impossible to get away but thank goodness I did. Now everything seems better. Sometimes it just takes some time for yourself to create a change in perspective.

Senior man on a walk with his son and grandson.

Switch up your priorities

When I realized how stressed out I was about finding the time to take my mom to get her hair done, I realized I needed to shift my priorities. I looked at my calendar and saw things that really did not fit with my present goals. I cleared my schedule of some of the things that do not matter as much now so I have a little more time to give my mom more care.

Senior and daughter.

Remember that everything is temporary

One of my girlfriends who was in my exact position — a mom, a wife, and a caregiver — before her mom passed away, gave me some really great advice. She said: “Remember that everything is temporary. The good times are temporary, and the bad times are temporary.” When I feel a sense of inadequacy over my role as a caregiver, I try to remember this advice.

Smiling woman.

Be gentle on yourself

This is new territory for many of us. Even though some of the diseases are becoming familiar, each caregiving situation is unique. And, with a disease like dementia, what you know one week may no longer hold true the next. Exploring new territory can be exciting and terrifying, but it is rarely easy. We need to be gentle on ourselves as we discover the best way forward each week.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.