Just like patients, all caregivers have physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. On this Web site, we emphasize that caregivers must take care of their own needs first, in order to be able to take care of others well. But sometimes caregivers may decide to put their loved one’s needs first.
Why? Primary caregivers are usually close to the patient – the phrase “loved one” sums that up. And one important need that caregivers have is to give care itself. Caregiving isn’t just about your loved one’s need for care. It’s also about your need to give that care, to be with your loved one, and to simply love each other, as always.
Depending on your circumstances, you may choose to focus foremost on your need to give care. You may decide that you’re not ignoring your other needs by doing this, but actually fulfilling them through caregiving. To make the most of your time with your loved one, you may decide to immerse yourself completely in caregiving and your relationship, especially if you expect that your loved one will die very soon.
If that’s the case, then you need to decide for yourself if the rewards outweigh the risks. In the short term, if you’re generally healthy and confident that you can take care of yourself after your loved one dies, then you may be just fine. Even if your loved one needs long-term care, you may still decide to focus completely on caregiving. That’s your choice to make. But remember that neglecting self-care for any length of time puts you at significant risk for developing physical and emotional health problems, including burnout. And if you burn out, you may become unable to take care of your loved one at all.
When you’re deciding how to deal with your need to give care, keep this in mind – the more help you get with non-caregiving tasks (like cooking, cleaning, and child care), the more time and energy you’ll have for your loved one, and the less stressed you’ll be. See the section Practical Supports for suggestions about who can help.
Whether you decide to focus on your own needs, your loved one’s needs, or your need for each other, be sure that you’re making an informed decision that’s right for you. And remember that you can change your priorities and your approach to caregiving at any time.