Taking Care of Guilt: Caregiving for Older Adults

By Carol J. Farran

Guilt is an emotion we’ve all experienced at one time or another. But if you take care of an older adult — whether it’s a spouse, parent or other relative or friend — guilt can be overwhelming at times. It may even cause you to push yourself beyond your limits and, in the process, to neglect your own physical and emotional needs.

The best way to get a handle on your guilt is to understand where it comes from. Although we tend to label guilt as a negative emotion, it isn’t always. For instance, the guilt you feel when taking care of an older adult can be closely related to feelings of empathy, regret, loss or grief. You may feel guilty that your relative or friend is sick while you’re healthy, that they can’t do things or go places like they used to, or that you’re powerless to change their situation. In these cases, guilt is a normal, human response.

Guilt can also result from making promises — like telling your parents you’ll never put them in a nursing home — that you may be unable to keep. Promises are made with the best of intentions, but it’s not possible to know how a person’s physical or mental health will progress. When faced with this type of dilemma, try to choose the option that’s best for your relative or friend, regardless of past promises, and involve him or her in the decision-making process as much as possible. Continue reading