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Setting rules can prevent caregiver burnout

Carol Bradley Bursack, Forum columnist

Dear Carol: My dad cared for Mom for seven years until she died from Alzheimer's. Now, Dad needs a little help. He knows how hard caregiving can be, and with my working full time, he's worried that I'll burn out or get sick if I take on his care. He has money to pay for some hired help at home, which is where he wants to stay. He has a personal alarm and is safety-conscious. I live with depression, though I'm treated. Still, I have kids at home so I do have limits in what I can do for Dad. When I read about caregiver burnout, I worry about that happening to me. I don't want to get so that I hate visiting Dad or taking care of his needs, but I know that this is possible if I'm not careful. What can I do so that this doesn't happen? — OP

Dear OP: You are fortunate in that your dad has this background and understands the stress involved with long-term caregiving, so this is the perfect time for you to set up some rules for yourself knowing that he'll support you. While I'll provide some basics, it's important for you to consider your unique needs so that you can tweak these to fit your life.

Set boundaries. Setting boundaries as early as possible will make the rest of your caregiving easier in the long run. Your dad knows that he'll probably require more help over time. Since he has the money to hire assistance, maybe you can sit down together and draw up a list of what you think you can do and what you may need to hire done as time goes on.

Do not, under any circumstances, stop taking care of your depression or any other health issues that you have. The time could come when you must limit your caregiving to being an advocate rather than providing hands-on care. You'll need to accept that without guilt.

Be realistic from the start about what you can and cannot do as your dad's illness and/or age progress. Perhaps, for now, your dad simply needs you to check on him daily and handle his medications, but that could change. Make a plan, with his involvement, so that you are both aware of your limits.

Understand that you are human. At times you will likely want to do more for your dad than is reasonable. You'll feel unearned guilt. Try to accept your limits as part of being human. It's okay. The reality is that we are all imperfect caregivers and imperfect human beings. Do what you can and that is enough.

Find a support group either online or in person. Online may be most helpful for you now because of your busy schedule but if your dad has a specific disease sometimes disease-specific groups can be exceptionally helpful. Two respected general groups are the Caregivers Action Network (CAN) at caregiveraction.org/community and the Caregiver Alliance at caregiver.org/support-groups.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.