Journey in Caregiving
Helpful tips for family caregivers
- Learning to accept help
- Uncle Sam may have a tax break for you
- When ice cream is more important than salad
Learning to accept help
Family members who have cared for a loved one for a long time acknowledge that they are able to do a better job when they accept help from others. Caring for an aging relative may go on for years. You need to pace yourself. Being willing to accept help is the first step. For many family caregivers, though, noble but inaccurate beliefs can create obstacles:
- “I should be able to do this by myself.”
- “It’s selfish to think of my own needs.”
- “My [brother/sister/cousin…] won’t do it the right way.”
- “Dad won’t let anyone help but me.”
If these sound familiar, you are not alone. Beliefs like these, however, represent an unfairly distorted view. They imply “perfection” and do not allow for the realities of human limitation. If left unchecked, such beliefs lead to burnout. They can interfere with your ability to care for your loved one over the long term.
You can learn to pace yourself and accept help by combating these distortions. Professionals in cognitive therapy say the simplest way is to recognize negative self-talk and offer yourself an alternate view. For instance:
“Should Statements.” Idealistic thoughts focused on how things “should” be rather than on adapting to the realities of a situation.
- Alternate perspective: Instead of “I should do it all,” remind yourself, “I would prefer to do it all, but that’s not possible. It’s better that I get help than exhaust myself and do a bad job with Mom.”
“Labeling.” Applying false or harsh judgments on yourself or others.
- Alternate perspective: Instead of “It’s selfish to think of myself,” remind yourself, “I am not selfish. I do a lot to care for Pop. But I need to pace myself for his sake as much as mine.”
In next month’s e-newsletter, we will look at further strategies for learning to accept help.
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Uncle Sam may have a tax break for you
According to a national study, family members routinely contribute 10% of their own income to support an older relative. Fortunately, the IRS may offer some relief.
Claim your parent as a dependent
You may be able to claim your parent as a dependent, even if he or she does not live with you. To be eligible:
- Your parent’s annual income must be less than $3500. “Income” includes pension benefits, interest and dividends from investments, or withdrawals from retirement savings plans. It does NOT include tax-exempt Social Security benefits.
- You must have paid more than half of your parent’s living expenses, whether he or she lives with you or not. If you do live together, you may also be able to write off a percentage of your mortgage, utilities, and certain living expenses toward the support you provided.
The qualifying relative deduction is explained in more detail in Publication 501 under “Exemptions for Dependents.”
- Medical expenses. If you have contributed to your parent’s medical or dental care, you may be able to deduct this amount. (Publication 502)
- Adult day services. If your parent is unable to care for him- or herself during the day and you have needed to hire outside help in order to go to your own job, you may be eligible for a dependent care tax credit. (Publication 503)
- What if several siblings contribute to your parent’s care? You cannot each claim the deduction. But one of you may take the multiple support exemption if the others agree. (Form 2120)
Check with your accountant for more specifics. AARP also has a free tax aide service.
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When ice cream is more important than salad
Whether it’s a bowl of soup or a bag of groceries, providing food is a gesture of love. And when a loved one has a serious illness, it’s natural to want them to eat well. Certainly, the health benefits of a sensible diet are undeniable.
Many chronic conditions respond well to specialized diets. Diabetes and heart disease can be managed very well with good nutrition. When an individual is robust and active, these diets support healthy aging. With advanced illness or an especially frail elder, however, there may be reason to rethink a strictly fat-free diet. It may be time to put some of the gravy back on the table.
The American Dietetic Association points out that eating is more than a physical process. Food is:
- Social—an opportunity to join with others
- Cultural—a ritual that honors history, identity, and place
- Emotional—a trigger of fond memories, often bringing soothing effects
For the frail elderly, dietitians have determined that restrictive diets may not be all that helpful. Instead, they advise loosening dietary restrictions to support overall health and well-being. They note that:
- Enjoyment of life is key to a balanced approach to health.
- Bland foods can reduce appetite.
- Losing interest in food depresses quality of life.
- Not eating enough hastens frailty.
- Medications may be able to compensate for dietary transgressions.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s eating habits, ask the doctor to reevaluate the situation. For more information, you can also read our article about nutrition and eating in the context of serious illness.
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