Caregiving Throughout A Lifetime

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Aging Well with Patricia Harringtion

In a way I became a caregiver at the age of 11 when my mother purchased a “Rest Home.” We moved into the third floor of this beautiful, large, Victorian house that was home to not only my mother, my sister and I, but also over 10 older men and women. 

These people needed assistance with meals, some limited personal care, medications, housekeeping, laundry, errands, etc.  I helped with housekeeping, lawn care, errands and took part in socializing.  As I got older, I provided some medication assistance and some personal care assistance.

The arrangement as I saw it was mutual. The people who I helped to care for also helped care for me.  They were appreciative, attentive, interested in my life and probably watched out for me when I did not even know it.  As I reflect on May as being Caregiver Awareness Month and I read the Spring Newsletter from Caregivers NS, I was impressed with the helpful information shared.  It made me reflect on having been a caregiver but I also recognized that it was not the same as caring for a loved one every day, especially if the person has a condition that is deteriorating. 

When someone cares for an ageing loved one, they run the risk of burnout if they try to do it all on their own.  I would like to summarize some of the things that can help identify if we are heading for burnout.  This is important to recognize so we can reach out for help for our own safety and protection as well as for the people we care for.  I looked back on my years of caregiving as a helper at the Rest Home, my time as a paid personal care worker, being a mother of three children and now heading into potential years of assisting to care for an ageing parent and I recognized that no matter what stage or type of caregiving you are taking part in, you must care for yourself too.  This is vital as a caregiver. 

As the Caregivers NS newsletter points out, we can recognize if we are not meeting our own needs and heading down an unhealthy path if we see signs like being on the verge of tears, feeling helpless or feeling hopeless, overreacting to minor upsets, feeling tired all the time, getting less and less productive, not staying in touch with friends or family who we used to socialize with, not eating properly or sleeping well,  finding it hard to relax, drinking or smoking more, or our thoughts are scattered more than they usually are.  These are possible signs of caregiver burnout.  It is critical that we get help.  At the point of burnout, we need to call a support group (like the Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson Support, Schizophrenia Society etc.), a doctor, Continuing Care, Caregivers NS etc. 

There are some simple steps as a caregiver that we can take in order to ensure we do not head down the path of caregiver burnout.  Small steps like stopping for a cup of tea/coffee with a friend - take that moment to reach out and connect.  Go for a walk or take a few minutes to do a few exercises to stretch and clear your mind, tinker in the workshop or work on a craft, read a magazine or a few pages of a book, run a bubble bath and just soak, listen to music, light candles, watch a movie, pray, meditate or just sit quietly listening to the sounds around you.  Don’t feel guilty for taking time to take care of your own needs - it is a vital part of being a caregiver.   Recognizing that we are close to suffering signs of caregiver burnout is also important.  Once burnout is felt, caregiving is no longer a healthy option for you or the person being cared for.  We must take steps to protect ourselves so we can continue to care for the person in a way that is positive, not stressful and harmful.

If you are a caregiver please take time to attend the Caregiver Appreciation Tea on May 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Trinity- St. Stephen’s, Kimball Lounge at 1 Ratchford St. in Amherst. 

When you give of yourself to a loved one, please accept and welcome appreciation because it is a key to ageing well and feeling healthy.  This event is free, enjoy!  If you have any questions you can call Cindie at Caregivers NS toll free at 1-877-488-7390 or 324-2273.

For more information, check out the newsletter at .

For any further information to help you or an older person in your life please call the Seniors Health Center toll free at 1-877-916-7150 or 597-7150.


Patricia Harrington is the district manager, senior's health, for the Cumberland Health Authority.


Organizations: Victorian house, Schizophrenia Society, Seniors Health Center Cumberland Health Authority

Geographic location: Alzheimer, Amherst

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