By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
Being a caregiver for an elderly or ill family member can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally. There are so many issues to deal with including medical, quality of life, legal and financial, just to name a few. It is no surprise that many caregivers experience burnout. Caregivers often feel pressure to assume additional responsibility as time passes and neglect to take time out for themselves. This can be a huge mistake since you won’t be able to continue being a caregiver if you don’t take care of yourself. This is akin to the announcement on the airplane where they advise you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
Here are a few key tips to avoid burnout.
Ask Family Members for Help
When an aging parent needs care, one adult child may assume a greater share of the work than their adult siblings. This may be intentional or unavoidable, if other siblings work full-time or live farther away from the parent. Often, the imbalance is not acknowledged or even understood. It may be that those siblings who are not the primary caregivers simply do not know how much work is involved. In this situation, it can be important to have a family meeting. The primary caregiver can use such a gathering to inform other family members of the details of their parent’s condition, and what is needed in terms of care. Once the caregiver explains in detail the amount of work that is involved, a perfect opportunity arises to ask other family members to contribute and help. Sometimes, all you have to do is simply ask and help is on the way. Other times, the lack of assistance from other family members could be indicative of a variety of family issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Try a Support Group
Being a caregiver can be very isolating. You may spend a great deal of time alone with the elderly parent. Other relatives and friends, who are not caregivers, may not appreciate the amount of work involved and may not understand the caregiver's frustration or exhaustion. Getting together in a support group is an excellent way to share resources and talk about day-to-day experiences with other caregivers in similar circumstances. Caregivers may be reluctant to attend a support group because of time constraints or because they downplay the significance of their work. However, most people have a positive experience when they attend support groups
Use Respite Care
Most caregiving in our country is provided by unpaid family members and most do it out of love and affection for the person who needs the care. Other times, the care is provided by unpaid caregivers in part because professional in-home assistance can be unaffordable. In those cases, it might make sense to consider government-financed home-care provided through Medicaid. There are strict income and asset requirements that must be met in order to qualify for Medicaid care at home so make sure you work with a certified elder law attorney to avoid any missteps. Although there have been recent cutbacks in the Medicaid home care program, it is still possible to get help several hours a day (and sometimes much more) if you know what steps to take. In addition, respite care can be a good alternative to full or part-time help, providing planned, short-term breaks for the caregiver.
These tips have a common theme: one should not face these challenges alone. Instead, get help from family members and from community resources. For more information about Westchester County Senior Programs and Services, go to
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.