Caregiver Cling is a Thing

“Caregiver Cling” is similar to what we used to call “Separation Anxiety“.  In this context it describes dependent adults who experience anxiety or even panic when their primary caregiver or partner is absent.  Caregiver ClingThe caregiver might just be in another room but out of their loved one’s view. This creates stress for all involved. The needy person becomes agitated, angry or fearful. The caregiver feels angry, resentful or guilty. As this situation is resolved for children, so too it can be resolved between adults.

Caregivers Need Time Off

No matter how wonderful you are as a primary caregiver, it is an unsustainable situation if you do not get a break. Because you have your own needs, a primary caregiver must have time to rest and recharge,  see friends, manage their own health issues including doctor appointments and decrease “caregiver burnout”.  It is so hard to leave the person you care for and about, but it makes you a better caregiver when you have time away. This time away is yours. Your obligation is to make sure the dependent person is safe and cared for. There are various ways to accomplish this without you being present every waking hour.  To keep yourself in good shape, physically, emotionally and spiritually, have a backup plan so that you can be off task without worry. This can be a friend, neighbor, volunteer or hired companion/aide who will cover your time away. Perhaps a senior center or program is a way to keep them safe and give you a break.

Tips to Overcome Caregiver Cling

~First accept that you are entitled to a break. This can be a couple of hours or even a real vacation.

~Recognize and acknowledge your family member’s feelings. The anxiety or anger they feel is real.

~Start small.  Maybe an hour or two and then build on that. Check in with them in the beginning.

~Plan for your time away. Make the arrangements with another family member or hire an aide to be with your loved one.

~Give them an explanation for your absence and why it is important to you.

~Repeat reassurances to them and remind them where and why you are going.

~Describe or introduce the temporary caregiver.

Remember, the goal is to help the person cope with your absence and accept a substitute caregiver. When the dependent person has Alzheimer’s or other dementia, more thought and planning  should be taken. Although it may be easier to redirect a person with memory impairment and engage them with someone new, the person, whether family or hired help, needs to be familiar with dementia.  A Day Care program may be more desirable.

Be honest with yourself, are you contributing to their fears by being overprotective?  Sure, no one will care for about your loved one like you will, but often “good enough” is good enough. A trained person or an involved family member can keep the dependent person safe, cared for and amused or diverted.  There are other positive reasons to introduce other caregivers into your loved one’s experience. It will give you more freedom. It lets them widen their circle of possible future caregivers and it provides you both with a back-up plan should an emergency take you out of the home.