Dear Fiona: Caring for my elderly relative is so exhausting

Counsellor Fiona Caine encourages a tired carer to focus on getting some much-needed self-care.

The problem
“For the past four years, my husband’s elderly aunt has lived with us. She is a smashing old girl, and I really wouldn’t want her to go anywhere else. She does need a lot of constant care though – she has a catheter that I’ve had to learn how to change for her. She also needs help with washing and getting dressed.

“She can’t really move around on her own either, but she’s always cheerful and always grateful for what I do for her and, on the whole, I am happy to do it all. Just sometimes though, I wish I could have my home and some time to myself once more.

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“My husband is wonderful with her at weekends, but I still need to be around – he can’t change her catheter, for example.

“We were having regular visits from the district nurse, but these didn’t happen as frequently during COVID and, frankly, I’m exhausted. I would dearly love a break and to just get out occasionally, but I feel so guilty having these thoughts.

“She’s 96 now and sometimes I find myself wishing she weren’t around anymore. Then I feel absolutely dreadful for having such thoughts – but I really can’t help it.”

Fiona says
“Please stop feeling guilty! Nobody has the strength to care for another person indefinitely and all of the time – you simply have to have a break now and then to recharge your batteries. If you don’t, you begin to build up resentment – as you have found is happening to you. Frankly, I am amazed that you have coped this long and been largely happy to do so, especially as this lady is not a direct relative of yours.

“Your life has been put on hold for the last four years and not many people would be willing to do what you’re doing for someone else – however smashing they are. Why not find out about respite care for a week or two, then take a much-needed break? You could consider a holiday (although with travel restrictions, that could be difficult or it might need to be still in the country) or just spend a couple of weeks relaxing at home.

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“Talk to the district nurse about this, as they will know what care homes there are locally that offer this option. I would suggest you visit them as well to make sure you are happy with them. Remember, this isn’t for long-term care though, only for a short break.

“In the short term, I suggest you try to make the most of those times when your husband is around – even if this is just going for a 20-minute walk or a trip to the shops. It’s very important you get proper regular breaks. The lady doesn’t need you by her side for 24 hours a day – your husband could certainly manage things for long enough for you take a break. If your husband has other family, perhaps they could step in occasionally too? If they came and stayed in your house overnight with her, you and your husband could get away together for a break, which could transform the way you feel.

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“If money is tight, there are several charitable organisations that offer respite care. The other thing I would suggest is that you make sure you are getting absolutely all the benefits you and she are entitled to.

“Once again, please do not feel guilty about asking for help. Your husband’s aunt can only benefit from having you and all those around her stay healthy and happy too.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Are you caring for a relative? What advice would you give in this situation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– With PA

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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