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July “Senior Sense”: 5 Strategies for Long Term Caregiving

Liz O'Donnell on June 17, 2020 02:25 PM

One of my caregiver coping skills is a concept I call “contained pain.” It’s the idea that I can handle any challenge for a finite period of time. I used this concept when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given three months to live. The diagnosis and the care she required uprooted my family, my job, and my marriage.  But I reminded myself the situation was temporary and that for three months, I could handle the stress, the long days, the skipped family dinners, and the late nights scrambling to finish the work I had missed because I was meeting with a doctor, sitting with my mother, or talking to the hospice nurses. The experience was stressful, but it had a clear beginning and end.

The concept was harder to apply when my father’s dementia advanced from moderate to severe. Once again, my daily life was impacted as he bounced from assisted living to the hospital to a skilled nursing facility and back to the hospital. This time, I didn’t have doctors giving me his life expectancy; the prognosis for dementia is quite different than a stage-four cancer prognosis. This time, I wasn’t running a proverbial sprint. This time, caregiving was more of a marathon.

Today, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, all caregivers are running the proverbial marathon – and we have no idea what mile this is. We have no idea when a vaccine will be available, or visitation restrictions may be lifted, or when we will be able to resume our pre-pandemic, day-to-day activities. Are we at the start, the middle, or nearing the finish line? So what coping skills can we apply to help us manage as caregivers for the long haul and through the unknown?


  1. Pace yourself. When I heard that my mother had only three months to live, I chose to put caregiving ahead of everything else in my life. But when my father got sick with no timetable, I knew I had to balance caring for him with staying present in my children’s lives, and remaining accountable and productive at my paying job. It is perfectly okay, and actually quite advisable, to balance caregiving with the other priorities in your life – especially when you don’t know how long you may be in the caregiving role. Being a good caregiver does not mean giving up your own life.
  1. Get plenty of sleep and eat for energy. You will need to care for yourself if you are planning to be an effective caregiver to others. That doesn’t mean you have to add yoga or massages to your overbooked life (although bonus points if you do), but it does mean you should mind the basics – how much rest you get and how you fuel your body. Choose foods that support your health versus those that detract from your long term well-being.
  1. Build in recovery time. No one can go at full speed everyday - not even you. You will need down time through this process – take it. Take it when your body and mind tell you that you need a break by hitting snooze on your alarm clock or hitting Next Episode on Netflix. Sometimes you need a break from your responsibilities. Consider it part of the caregiving process. You will resume more patient, focused, and willing to help.
  1. Think positive thoughts. To navigate through the unknow, you need to monitor your thoughts. Work to actively replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Instead of, “I can’t do this,” try, “I don’t want to do this anymore, but I know I can.” Encourage yourself to take one more step. Thank yourself for the care you give.
  1. Finally, slow down when you need to; just don’t stop. Trust that you are doing your best and that your best is enough. No one knows what the future will hold. So just keep moving, and eventually you will find your way.

For caregiving support, information and resources contact a Senior Care Advisor at We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 x3 or email questions to

Liz O'Donnell

Liz is the founder of Working Daughter, a thriving community for women balancing eldercare, career, and more. A former family caregiver, she is a recognized expert on working while caregiving and has written on the topic for The Atlantic, Forbes, TIME, WBUR and PBS’ Next Avenue. Her book, Working Daughter: A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Earning A Living, will be published in August 2019.