In Japan, traditionally the oldest son or daughter inherits their parents’ home and looks after their parents as they grow old. The spouse of this son or daughter naturally feels a responsibility to take care of their parents-in-law. Although this tradition has become less and less prevalent, many families still live this way. It can lead to conflicts, even as caregiving is being provided.
Such was the case for the mother of a former colleague of mine. Constant demands and complaints from the mother-in-law decreased the caregiver’s motivation to serve. The caregiver started resenting the mother-in-law, even to the point of wishing she would pass away.
Gradually, the caregiver’s physical and mental energy were drained. She became ill herself. As a result, my colleague often took paid leave or adjusted her schedule so that she, in turn, could take care of her mother. She became the caregiver to a caregiver.
Although caregivers of any age can experience fatigue, the problem is particularly acute among those over the age of 65, when one older person is taking care of another, such as an individual taking care of their spouse. Research indicates that caregivers ages 66–96 who are experiencing stress have a 63 percent higher risk of mortality than noncaregivers.1
Caregivers need support in the efforts they make to help others. Many families have learned how to support a caregiver in marvelous ways. For example, my wife’s parents lived near the ocean in Chiba Prefecture, Japan. However, as they got older, their children started to be concerned about their health.
One of their older daughters invited them to move closer to her home, in Osaka, where she would be a primary caregiver to them. But all the children joined together to support their parents and their sister—finding and remodeling a house, understanding the parents’ needs, and respecting their independence so that they could fully receive joy and happiness in their new life at the new location.
My wife’s father, who has dementia, started attending a day-care center nearby, where he enjoys the company of other seniors rather than randomly wandering around his neighborhood. Even though we are far away, my wife enjoys having a doctrinal discussion with her parents every Sunday via the internet, where they encourage one another and share love. And she often checks on her sister to see how the caregiving is going.
Caregiving occurs under many different conditions. In many cases, caregivers need to travel to provide care. In other cases, the individual being cared for may reside in the caregiver’s home. Caregiving often requires adjustments in the caregiver’s physical, mental, and financial situation and in their relationship with their spouse, children, and community.
In Japan, there is no system of sick leave. Instead, caregivers use up all their vacation leave. Then they either negotiate for their employer to adjust their working hours or they quit work altogether in order to provide care full-time. According to data from the Japanese government, in 2017 about 90,000 people resigned from their work in order to provide caregiving at home.2
Caregivers can get caught in the middle of wanting to help while needing help themselves. They don’t want to complain to or discourage those they are caring for; in fact, they feel pressure to try to meet their every expectation. Many caregivers expend tremendous effort and sacrifice for extended periods of time. Without social support, caregivers may keep their agony and pain inside. Some suffer from anxiety, depression, and physical or mental fatigue. Caregiving affects quality of life, and again, according to research, long-term caregivers are very likely to end up feeling burdened and depressed.3
It’s important for caregivers to understand that they should:
Not feel ashamed in sharing their concerns and challenges with others.
Learn to rely on family members and external resources.
Accept support from various sources.
Researchers have tried to identify factors that alleviate the burden of caregivers and to discover methods that will improve their physical and mental well-being. They have found that these things help:
Share knowledge of the challenges each caregiver faces, including an awareness of the stages of caregiver health deterioration.
Increase family intervention.
Understand and make use of community resources.
Rely on social support, both within and outside the family.
Listen carefully to the caregiver’s needs and desires.
Enlist multiple people to ease the caregiver’s burden.
Of course, the master caregiver is our Savior, Jesus Christ. And we can learn a lot about Christlike caregiving by studying what He referred to as the first and second great commandments:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
In these verses, I believe the Lord is providing a guide that is particularly helpful to caregivers. First of all, love the Lord. Don’t neglect the simple things that recharge you spiritually. Pray. Read the scriptures. Find peace in your heart. Feel the power and strength of Heavenly Father’s love for you.
You are probably already filled with love for your neighbor—in this case, the person you care for. But do you also love yourself, in a righteous way? Caring for someone else can take a lot out of you, so it’s important to rejuvenate yourself whenever you can. If you truly “love thy neighbour as thyself,” you’ll want to renew your strength so that you remain strong and can continue to serve.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“For those of you who earnestly seek to bear another’s burdens, it is important that you refortify yourself and build yourself back up when others expect so much of you and indeed take so much out of you. No one is so strong that they do not ever feel fatigued or frustrated or recognize the need to care for themselves. …
“The caregivers have to have care too. You have to have fuel in the tank before you can give it to others.”4
And President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Even though extended and loving service to people is richly rewarded, you have learned that there are physical, emotional, and financial limits to what is possible. The person giving care long enough can become the one who needs care.”5
Caregivers and Church leaders should work together to meet the special challenges of each family, including employment, physical and mental challenges, and family and marriage relationship issues. Caregivers should be encouraged not to overestimate their own capability under stress and during challenging times, and they should be regularly reminded to take some time to regain their strength.
In my experience, both as a counselor and in my own family, I have found that caregivers often feel they must do everything on their own. This is simply not true. Caregivers who won’t accept help almost always “burn out” at some point. They need to allow others to assist them. They need to counsel with family, friends, and ward or branch leaders and ministering brothers and sisters. Those who are eager to help a caregiver need to respect the caregiver’s desires to bless and watch over their loved one.
Here are some items that might be helpful to discuss together:
What support is available from family members?
What would provide opportunities for the caregiver to rest for a few minutes, or even an hour or two?
How often are visits helpful? What kinds of visits?
How can the caregiver find time to renew covenants by attending the temple, going to church, and receiving the sacrament?
How might the caregiver benefit from just talking to someone?
Is there a need for help with food, transportation, or government programs?
As members of the Church, we seek to become true followers of Jesus Christ. We “should impart of [our] substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and ministering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” (Mosiah 4:26). As Latter-day Saints, we love to serve. It is wonderful to see children look after their parents. It is also beautiful to see ministering brothers and sisters assist them, uplift their souls, and share their burdens.
At the same time, caregivers and those who support them need to “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).