Sometimes a caregiver just has to walk away.

It’s not that they no longer care. It’s just that once in a while the pressure becomes too much or the person being cared for can become abusive. There is nothing wrong with walking away for a time and then returning after a cool down period. No need to feel guilty about it, although the caregiver undoubtedly will feel guilty. The important point is to make sure the person is safe or in the care of someone else, if needed.

I have been recently involved in a minor caregiving situation for an aging friend who has no family nearby. I could see that she needed advocacy to make sure she was getting the medical care she needed in an appropriate setting.  Over the course of a few weeks, I spent many hours with her, talking to her medical caregivers and driving her places. She has little recollection of that time and because of the confusion she was experiencing as a result of pain medicine, she became fairly snappy with me. In her mind, I was public enemy number one. So after a couple of  months, I made sure she had the care that she needed and walked away from the situation for a few days. I returned when I felt that she really needed me again and I when I was ready to deal with potential anger again. Caregivers always return. It’s in their blood to do so.

Caregivers put up with a lot of stress and abuse, even though it is often unintentional.

Dementia, pain, fear, and side effects from medication can all make a person irrational. They can lash out at the people who care for them the most because they know it is safe. I believe that they are deeply grateful for the tender care and devotion from their caregivers, however, it might not appear that way on our human dimension. People have deep spiritual levels that are unseen, and their higher selves do not know pain, dementia, or fear. They can look at their caregivers with gratitude and love from a higher perspective. That gratitude and love is eternal. They know their caregivers are incredible beings, I assure you.

A few years ago I was a caregiver for a friend. The physical and emotional demands were big, and sometimes the complications from the family and personalities were overwhelming. When I knew there were other people to take care of him, I would occasionally take time away to regroup. I even told him once, “There will always be times when I walk away. This situation gets to be too much. But I will always come back.” And I always did.

Caregivers do so much for so many people, often putting themselves last. Unfortunately, it often takes something catastrophic like personal illness or an accident that forces them to briefly focus on themselves.

Sometimes it takes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back to make the caregiver walk away. And I say it is unfortunate because caregivers should not have so little time or interest in their own welfare but they often are terrible about self-care. The reasons can include lack of time or depression, both of which are understandable. But it’s important to respond to breaking points and respect them while following a few rules.

  1. Do not hurt the person who needs care. Violence or abuse will not make matters better. Caregivers must step away immediately if this is the direction they are headed.
  2. Try to find a replacement when possible. Caregivers should call friends, family, or a caregiving agency to take their place. If there are no replacements available, step out of the room or outside for a while. If it’s possible to take a bigger break away from the situation, the caregiver should grab it.
  3. There are places that provide respite care. Contact the local Area Agency on Aging or the local senior center for suggestions.

Staying in an abusive or volatile situation when a break is available, isn’t smart. It’s risky for the caregiver and risky for the person receiving care. Caregivers cannot always take care of themselves but they can do what is necessary to protect their own physical and mental health. Sometimes a small break is all that is needed. Because the caregiver will likely return. And returning refreshed and ready for “battle” is a win-win for all parties.

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