By definition, today's caregivers of vulnerable loved ones are usually "high-functioning multi-taskers" who appear to be capable of maintaining an astonishing workload.
From keeping track of complicated medicines (and doses) to managing a home, family and even a career, many caregivers race at NASCAR-level speeds, "lapping" others who can barely get out the words "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Despite all their skills, blinding speed and apparent competency, all caregivers suffer from the same challenge: What they do is unsustainable. It's simply a matter of time before a caregiver's body, emotions and/or their wallet will break down.
When caregivers recklessly hurl themselves at managing "that which cannot be managed," they rely on two things: their own abilities and the belief that they will outlive their loved ones.
Both of those beliefs create a serious risk of harming the very people the caregivers seek to serve.
If the caregiver goes down, this has disastrous implications for the loved one who is already vulnerable.
Helping those who are experienced at helping others is not easy, but it is possible — if you know the seven warning signs that a caregiver is in trouble:
1. Rage or Reactive behavior
2. Excessive weight gain
3. Lack of regular visits to the doctor for the caregiver
4. Hyperactivity and/or difficultly with speaking calmly
6. The caregiver is isolated
7. The caregiver struggles to speak in the first-person singular. He or she will say "we" or "us," and rarely "I" or "me"
If you see these things in someone caring for a chronically ill, or disabled or elderly loved one (you may see a combination or ALL of them), there is cause for concern. Don't get up in their business, but don't dismiss them by saying such things as, "Hey brother, we'll pray for you" or "call me if you need anything." Pray for them WHILE you offer to:
- Find sitters to be with her loved one while she makes an appointment with her personal physician.
- Let her know that you see the magnitude of what she is carrying.
- Engage him, but don't ask a bunch of questions about the circumstances. Point conversation back to his feelings.
- If she is not seeing a therapist, encourage her to do so. Offer to find some type of arrangement to cover sitting with her loved one.
- Be persistent, but not invasive. He didn't get there overnight, and he won't get out of it overnight. You cannot save him any more than he can save his loved one.
- Talk about matters of the heart, not the chart.
- Notice them.
Caregivers struggle. They operate in a FOG (which stands for Fear, Obligation, and Guilt). The isolation a caregiver feels often leads him to believe he is navigating just fine by using his own senses and understandings -- when in reality he is heading for disaster, and taking his loved one with him.
This problem is not going away on its own, and it will grow exponentially with America's vast aging population. The signs are easy when you know them. Help is often one insightful comment away. We serve ourselves better by addressing this issue because if you love someone, you'll be a caregiver. If you live long enough, you'll need one.
His weekly radio show for caregivers is on Nashville's WLAC -1510 ( Clear Channel).