When a parent or loved one begins to show serious signs of aging or illness, it can be difficult to accept certain realities. For many, the role reversal from parent and child to patient and caregiver is a tough pill to swallow. It might be fair to say that the role of primary caregiver is something that one grows into. In addition to the learning curve that comes with providing treatment, care and support, the developing caregiver must also learn to cope with the emotional toll that is inherent to caregiving. Part of learning to cope is overcoming caregiver denial.
It Ain’t Just a River… Denial is a normal human response when we are faced with the unthinkable. As the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) points out, this is the first of the so-called ‘five stages of grief,’ followed by anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. No doubt you’ll experience some degree of each of these stages as you learn to care for your loved one. But how well you manage this range of emotions will be directly impacted by your willingness to face up to reality. According to the Caregiver Action Network, some level of denial is not just normal but can also be helpful. This initial response to a situation can serve as a sort of buffer zone, allowing the caregiver to adjust to a flood of new information and feelings. This period can give us a chance to reflect, to accept and ultimately to adapt to emergent realities. Still, it is essential as the caregiver that you don’t allow the period to drag on. If you are to provide comfort, compassion and realism for your loved one, you will have to vanquish your own fears first. Of course, like most dimensions of caregiving, overcoming denial is far easier said than done.
Seek Support: Sometimes, simply saying something out loud can help you to absorb the reality of it. When it comes to caring for a loved one, you need all the support you can get. According to the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, reaching out to friends, family, physicians and caregiver networks to discuss your situation can go a long way toward helping you to accept your responsibilities and the impact they will have on your everyday life. Speak to those who’ve had the same experience and you’ll find that you are not alone. Just knowing this can truly help you to overcome your denial.
Make Plans: Once you’ve had a chance to process the reality that your loved one is in need and that you will be assuming the role as primary caregiver, it’s time to start making plans. You’ll find rather quickly as you begin to take on treatment responsibilities, domestic obligations and other caregiving tasks that denial is not an option. Act quickly to learn everything you can about your loved one’s condition, health needs, prescriptions and mortality plans. You are likely to find that your planning responsibilities are too numerous to allow much time for denial.
Adjust Your Life: As a primary caregiver, your schedule will be impacted. As your responsibilities to your loved one increase or become more unpredictable, you may have to make sacrifices in your personal and professional life. Consult your employer, your spouse or others in your social support system and make sure they understand how this will impact your time, your availability and your need for flexibility. As others make these accommodations to support you, you may find it easier to move on from your denial and to grow in your role as a primary caregiver.