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How to Cope During the Final Stages of Life

By Jennifer WegererDecember 6, 2013
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Caring for a dying loved can be rewarding and incredibly challenging. It’s important for caregivers to remember their own health and wellness while meeting the needs of their loved one. Finding support and other resources can help caregivers cope with the stress, anxiety and grief endured during a loved one’s final stages of life. 

If you’re caring for someone who’s dying, the responsibility can become overwhelming. Communicating with family members and doctors, managing the treatment plan, and understanding the loved one’s end-of-life wishes can create stress and endless worry. Among these and other concerns, the caregiver has to deal with the impending loss, which can lead to bouts of depression.

A caregiver’s physical and emotional health are crucial to the job. According to the Administration on Aging, many caregivers of older people are older adults themselves. One-third of these caregivers already suffer from fair to poor health. If caregivers don’t take care of themselves, they can’t do their loved one any good. And the demands of the job can become too much to bear.

Methods to Help Caregivers Cope

As a caregiver, it’s important to know what support options are available to you. You need more than just a break from the job, but a system for managing the stress and keeping yourself healthy. Consider these options for coping with your caregiver role (sources: WebMD and Cancer.net):

Recognize stress. If you can’t sleep, struggle to concentrate, feel worried constantly, eat more or less than usual, or experience chronic aches and pains, these can be signs of stress. If they continue, they can have serious effects on your health.

Talk. Venting your frustrations to a trusted friend, family member or a counselor can provide much-needed stress relief. Talk honestly about your concerns, fears and sadness. You should have someone available to listen to you on a weekly basis, if possible.

Engage with support groups: Find support groups through the loved one’s health care provider, a hospital social worker or online community groups. Meeting with people going through the same experience offers a chance to share common concerns and exchange ideas on how to manage situations that caregivers have in common.

Ask for help. You should have people standing by to relieve you on a regular basis. If family members aren’t available, call on hospice care services, nursing agencies or community-based services that provide help as needed for a fee. Also, consider asking someone else to do the shopping, chores and similar duties that take time away from the loved one.

Make your wellness a priority. See your doctor regularly. And be sure to eat a healthy diet, exercise and socialize. Meet with friends or family for fun activities, and keep up with hobbies that are important to you.

Top 5 Books to Help Caregivers Cope

In addition to the support methods mentioned above, many books are available to help caregivers cope. The list below is based on suggestions from fans of A Place for Mom’s Facebook:

  • The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss (by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins)
  • Elder Rage, or Take My Father…Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents (by Jacqueline Marcell)
  • Eldercare for Dummies (by Dr. Rachelle Zukerman)
  • Glimpses of Heaven: True Stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey (by Trudy Harris)
  • The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope, Comfort, and Love to Life’s Final Chapter (by David Kessler)

Do you have other suggestions for books and resources to help caregivers cope during the final stages of life?

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Jennifer Wegerer