Take off the Cape: The Dual Role of Care Partner and Loved One Can Be Too Much, Even for a Superhero

Photo: Catherine Yeulet / Thinkstock

When you’re travelling on an airplane, there’s a small part of the safety instructions that’s easy to overlook. The sentence is very specific, but its general meaning can be applied to numerous scenarios. It’s a procedural step that one might think is common sense, until the situation arises and it’s easily forgotten:

“Secure your own mask before assisting others.” 

Simple enough, but do you know the true meaning of this statement?

You can’t properly help someone else if you can’t help yourself. You need to put your own oxygen mask on before you can assist those around you who are less capable of helping themselves. It’s not selfish. Consider this:

  • You shouldn’t feel guilty about making sure your own needs are met so you’re better able to help meet the needs of others.

  • It’s demanding enough to be a relative of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but the added responsibility of acting as caregiver as well can be too much for some.

  • You need time to recover and rest or your judgment may be compromised.

“For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, through good times and bad, until death do us part.” 

Some variation of these words is spoken at most weddings. And though it’s often unspoken in other relationships, it most often applies to our connections with all our loved ones.

It basically means “no matter what.”

It’s something loved ones hold onto during times of turmoil—especially when it comes to acting as a caregiver for someone with ADRD. You want to be by their side every minute to make sure they’re receiving the proper care. The only thing that makes sense to you is to put their needs above all else.

But there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you can’t do it all.

Very few people can, so asking for help is not only expected, it’s preferred. That doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved in care planning and providing important information.

Keep in mind that with a paradigm shift toward person-centered care, facilities are looking to learn as much as possible about each resident. Sometimes that resident can’t express likes or dislikes, so having a family member around to relay that information is vital to proper care planning. Plus, being a familiar face in a new setting can help lessen the transfer trauma for your loved one. 

Remember: Secure your own mask before assisting others. Those closest to you will be forever thankful.

More Resources

Compassion Fatigue [article]
The Comfort Garden With Laurie Barkin [podcast on vicarious trauma in caregivers]


Posted August 2012. Updated November 2015.
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About the Author

“Every individual on this earth deserves to be treated with compassion, understanding, and the right to keep their dignity intact. This can be difficult to honor at times when someone loses control of their behavior, but that’s where Rational Detachment and not taking it personally really kicks in. What has helped me be able to do this well goes back to the first day I was introduced to Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. I was a participant before becoming a Certified Instructor (and before working for CPI), and over the years I have had so many opportunities to use what I learned way back then. Today, I live the skills automatically. It’s an honor to have been given those skills to live the philosophy of treating others the way I want to be treated.”