Three Steps to Getting Control over Caregiver Fear

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Caregiver and senior woman embracing

When someone you love is suffering from an illness or injury because of a faulty drug or device, there are many unknowns. These can cause a person to feel scared and start asking a lot of “what if” questions — especially if he or she is responsible for a loved one’s well-being.

Some of these questions can include:

  • “What if he doesn’t get better?”
  • “What if the next surgery or medication makes it worse instead of better?”
  • “What if I get sick, and I can’t take care of her?”
  • “What if we run out of money?”
  • “What if he dies?”

These are frightening questions, and it isn’t unusual for the uncertainty to wake you up at night and keep your stomach churning during the day.

Most caregivers are fearful of what will happen to their loved one. At the same time, they are worried about how their lives are going to change.

But there are a few ways for someone to deal with this kind of fear.

Fear Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

The dictionary defines fear as, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, or likely to cause pain or a threat.”

Fear can serve a positive purpose when used to protect loved ones and ourselves. For example, it motivates us to lock our doors, purchase insurance and teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street.

When it comes to fear, I believe we have three choices:

  1. We can hope for the best and pretend that everything will just somehow work out.
  2. We can let fear paralyze us and allow worry to dominate our thinking day and night.
  3. We can identify our fears and develop an action plan that will help us prepare and respond appropriately.

Three Steps to Taking Control of Your Fear

Taking action can help with the feeling that we have no control over the situation.

If you choose to take action, here are three steps that can help you prepare for whatever lies ahead.

  1. List your fears. Write them down. Start each sentence with these words, “I am afraid…” Be specific. List things like: “I’m afraid he won’t be able to go back to work.” “I’m afraid she’s going to be in pain for the rest of her life.”
  2. Identify the things that are likely to happen. Delete the items on your list of fears that probably won’t happen, and then focus your emotional energy on learning everything you can about your loved one’s condition. Do some research. Find out what other people in this situation usually experience so you will have an idea of what you can realistically expect. Ask questions like:
    • Is this a temporary condition from which other people recover?
    • If this is not a short-term problem, what should we expect going forward? How have other people’s lives been affected? Do they eventually get better? Have they gone back to work? Have they been able to continue living in their homes independently? Have they discovered effective treatments? If so, how long did it take to recover? How did they pay for their medical care? How did they cover their living expenses in the meantime?
    • If this condition is a result of a faulty drug or device, has the manufacturer acknowledged it is dangerous? Have other people received medical or financial support to help them recover from this?
    • Is this a potential life-ending event? Is it likely that my loved one will die as a result of this illness or injury?
  3. Make plans to deal with the worst possible thing that could happen. Some of us have thoughts that are so frightening we can’t even speak them out loud. If you want to get control of the fears that frequently wake you up at 3 a.m., write them down. Look at them objectively. If the worst possible thing that could happen probably won’t happen, let it go. Make a conscious decision to release it and stop thinking about it. If, however, the worst possible thing that could happen probably will happen, you will need courage to acknowledge it and then get prepared for it. Ask yourself, “What do we need?” Be specific. You might list things like:
    • Medical care and equipment
    • Home remodeling and adaptations
    • In home care and assistance
    • Medical transportation
    • Financial support
    • Respite care
    • Hospice care
    • End-of-life planning

Once you list the things you need, the next question to ask is, “Who can help us?” Identify the people, organizations and agencies who might be able to help.

In addition to your doctor, you might want to contact an accountant, a financial planner, an attorney, a realtor and/or an insurance agent.

No one intends to become a caregiver. When something happens to someone we love, the job becomes ours — whether we want it or not.

The emotional struggle can be even more intense than the physical strain. There are no easy solutions. But naming your fears, listing what is likely to happen and developing an action plan can provide you with a little control and a sense of peace in even the most frightening situations.

Helpful Resources

  • National Area Agency on Aging: Enter your city, state and zip code to see what services are available in your community to support older people and people with disabilities. In many states, these agencies can also provide information about your State Health Insurance Assistance Program.
  • National Health and Human Services: Click on the link to your state’s Medicaid website to see if you qualify for free or low-cost care.
  • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: Elder law attorneys provide legal services to people as they age and to people with special needs. In order to control your health care, finances and possessions in the event of disability or death, every person needs a will or a trust, a durable power of attorney, and an advance directive. Having these documents in place will save a family thousands of dollars and countless conflicts when a person can no longer manage his or her affairs.
  • Hospice Directory: If your loved one’s condition is terminal, contact a local hospice. Hospice does not do anything to hasten death. Their stated mission is to provide comfort, relieve physical, emotional and spiritual suffering, and promote the dignity of terminally ill persons.
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