Caregiver Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness
For those of us caring for an aging parent or spouse, feelings of isolation and loneliness are real. As a family caregiver, have you ever experienced…
- …loneliness that you may not be able to put your finger on…
- …feelings of sadness or distance from others…
- …a something, though subtle, that is just as difficult to deal with.
Let me share with you a story that a colleague of mine and I were discussing last week. (…with my thanks and gratitude Niran Kulathungam!). For Niran, he was recounting the time when he was recovering from a traumatic brain injury. You see, recovering from a serious health crisis or living with a chronic health issue can be a long journey for the patient, as well as for the family caregiver.
Most people around you will be generally incredibly supportive and hopeful that your loved one will get well again. Some people around you will want them to get better….FAST. However, when the situation doesn’t get better FAST, or flow according to their expectations, you may experience some people pulling back or withdrawing. You will know that this is happening when you hear people say…
- …”Oh..it’s ok.” “Things will get better soon.” Or,
- …some people just won’t ask.
You may be witnessing some people are feeling awkward, and that they don’t know what to do or how to help. Ironically, this is a subtle form of social distancing…(…one that has been around a lot longer than the social distancing of COVID-19).
Niran’s story really resonated with me as I’ve seen this in my own life…
I am an individual living with Crohn’s disease and I was hospitalized for a time. My wife was driving to and from the hospital every day to care for me, managing two young kids at home, and working full time. Of course, friends and family called to express concern. Some others were polite, but took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.
As time progressed through a week or so, she also started to feel an awkward pressure from her employer, hearing things like “…how’s he doing…”, “…how are your deliverables coming along…?”
Ultimately…, she was feeling ISOLATED with fear starting to creep in (…and being stretched in different directions).
What she most wanted was for people to :
- … be understanding.
- … acknowledge that she was feeling afraid and stressed.
- … help take off her plate during this stressful time.
- … be friendly and lend a sincere ear (and maybe a laugh or two).
So….what to do?
Caregiver feelings of isolation and loneliness are real. To help, I’ve developed a few ideas to help break these feelings of isolation and loneliness:
- Recognize and acknowledge that you are feeling isolated and alone.
- Reach out and tell people how you are feeling AND what you need. Right now, the thing you may want most is a kind and friendly someone to talk to and share a laugh. In a strange way, reaching out and talking to people will enable you to help them, help you.
- Be clear. Tell people that it’s ok for them to want the situation to get better (and fast), but that that may not be possible right now.
- Set Expectations. Set expectations with those around you, as well as with yourself.
- Tell people what you need, and Ask for help..!
- Do you need them to take the kids for a few hours?
- Do you need some one to help you will a meal or two?
- Do you need them to run an errand for you?
- Do you need to speak with your employer’s EAP program specialist for help and support?
6. Check-in with your aging parent or spouse. If you are feeling isolated, then they may also be feeling isolated, too. In a recent article, “Loneliness and isolation during pandemic erode health and well-being for many who live alone” Wency Leung of the Globe and Mail identifies a number of tell-tale signs and symptoms of loneliness and isolation, which include individuals:
- not eating well, losing their appetite and eating less,
- are often dehydrated,
- losing weight,
- not regularly taking their medication,
- just not functioning well.
As a caregiver, be aware that these symptoms cause a higher risk of health issues in you aging parent or spouse, including confusion and falls.
Sending you courage and love.