Denial is often a part of the grief process for caregivers as they struggle with a changing reality, whether due to an aging loved one’s cognitive decline or simply due to the change in lifestyle that caregiving often brings.
“For some people, denial is part of the grief process,” says Home Instead gerontologist and caregiver advocate Lakelyn Hogan, Ph.D. “Subconsciously, they know they are going to see their loved one decline—it’s called anticipatory grief—and denial helps buffer their feelings.”
Once family members have accepted their caregiver role, another type of denial may set in. “They think they can do it all alone,” Hogan says. “They cut themselves off from vital resources that could be helpful to them in their caregiving journey.”
5 Ways to Move Past Caregiver Denial
1. Accept the Personal Losses
Sometimes caregivers deny the reality of the situation because they fear losing their own freedom and having to drastically adjust their lifestyles. “When you take away a loved one’s car keys, you worry they will resent you. But you need to find ways to get them where they want to go,” Hogan says. “The sooner you face it, however, the sooner you can find solutions that will work best for both of you.”
2. Join an Online Support Group
Caregivers often feel that attending a support group won’t fit in their schedule. “Up until the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of online support groups,” says Hogan. “But many Zoom and Facebook groups now offer support and comfort right from your home.”
3. Discuss the Future
“Many caregivers avoid talking about the future,” Hogan says. “They think there will be time later.” But it’s vital to have those difficult family conversations, which should include legal considerations such as setting up a power of attorney. “Otherwise, caregivers may find themselves in a mess later on.”
4. Educate Yourself
If your loved one is living with dementia, Hogan suggests consulting reliable sources, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, to learn what you can expect as the disease progresses, as well as what they may be experiencing. Make sure to tune in to the individual. “For instance, if your loved one can’t handle noise and crowds,” she says, “skip the busy church service and opt for an online service instead.”
5. Hire Respite Care
Many people initially deny that their family members need in-home care, such as the kind provided by Home Instead. “They say, ‘They’re not going to do half as good a job as I do, so why bother?’” Hogan says. “But once they step out in faith and try it, they’re often relieved and happy to have a break.”
Also, remember that guilt is often a normal part of the caregiving process. Grant yourself grace in acknowledging your emotions, both good and bad. And use the many resources that are available to help make the caregiving journey successful.