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Information about the author of this post.
tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Work-Life and Well-Being
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address

"Promise me I can stay in my own home until I die."

It’s a common request that caregivers hear, and it is hard to say no to that request. But it often is even harder to honor it.

Circumstances change and not all promises can be kept — not even in sickness and in health. Life is unpredictable, circumstances change and we don’t know what the future holds. Making promises can give both you and your loved one a false sense of hope. These promises are made with the best intentions, but how long can you continue to care for your loved one, your family, your career and yourself before something gives? It’s admirable but unrealistic. Sometimes we are put in a no-win situation; sometimes there is just no choice. A caregiver’s time, energy and finances are finite.

Your loved one’s safety is most important. You can’t change the level of care they require, and you can’t singlehandedly meet all needs. Trying to keep your loved one at home is certainly noble, but at some point this becomes unsafe and unsustainable for both of you.

Don’t forget that when we make a promise to our loved one, we also have made a promise to ourselves. And even if our loved one is unable to remember that promise — we always will. We feel we are not only letting our loved one down but letting ourselves down. That somehow, if we had worked a little harder or loved a little more or had more energy, we wouldn’t be at this crossroads. Situations change, and change does not mean failure. But somehow guilt has its way of worming itself into our psyche.

Caregiver guilt
Caregiver guilt can come when expectations are unrealistic and cannot be met — no matter how hard we try. These unrealistic expectations can either come from ourselves, the loved one we care for or others outside the caregiving circle.  

Feelings cannot be denied; they are what they are. But feelings can be changed by adjusting your perspective on the situation. Example: when your father with Alzheimer’s keeps repeating the same question over and over and over, remind yourself he is not doing it to be annoying; he’s doing it because it is part of his disease.

No two caregiving experiences are the same. What situations may be triggering for one person may not be for another. We each have our own complex and unique relationship with our loved one. There are no feelings we should or shouldn’t have.

How can we take control and manage caregiver guilt?

  1. Admit your feelings of guilt. Not recognizing your feelings will only make the situation worse. It’s OK to say, “I feel resentful that dad’s illness changed my life.” It’s true; it’s an honest statement. Your loved one’s illness changes your life and takes time away from the things and people you love. Recognizing those feelings can help put them into a new perspective and can help you understand them better.
  2. Once you’ve admitted your feelings, adjust your expectations. No one is perfect and trying to be will only cause you more stress, anxiety and guilt. All we can do is to try our best and embrace our imperfections.  
  3. Ask for help. Reach out to a mental health therapist. Guilt can have deep roots, and a therapist can help you understand your source of guilt and help you work through it.
  4. Stay connected with friends. Talking candidly with someone you trust can help you overcome those challenging moments. Call a friend, tell them you are going through a hard time and ask if they have a few minutes to listen. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
  5. Find time for yourself. Caring for a loved one is an important responsibility, but it shouldn’t be your sole focus or your only sense of purpose.
  6. Join a support group. Being with others who are in a similar caregiving situation can help you feel less alone and give you a sense of control over your situation. It can provide a space to share insights and community resources. Being in a support group can improve your coping skills and reduce stress, depression and anxiety.
  7. Talk with your loved one about their long-term care plans while they are still able to do so. Know what their wants and wishes are. If a loved one insists that they want to stay at home, all you can say is, “I know you want to stay in your home, and we're going to do whatever we can to keep you there, but there could be things that we don't foresee. But no matter what happens, we will be with you through it all.”

Being a caregiver for someone you love comes with mixed emotions. Caregiving can be extremely rewarding, but all caregivers, at some point, will experience feelings of frustration, anger, and of course, guilt. It’s all part of the caregiver package. Knowing these feelings are normal responses to an incredibly difficult situation can help.

Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,