Successful Caregiving is in the Eye of the Beholder

Let me guess – as a caregiver, you’re kind of hard on yourself. You’ve set some pretty high expectations that you wouldn’t expect anyone else to be able to meet, yet you believe that you should be able to achieve them, even when crises come down the pike and things don’t go at all as you had planned.

Sound familiar? Welcome to the caregiving club.

As caregivers, we can be harder on ourselves than our worst idea of a boss. If we aren’t perfect, or if we can’t solve every problem on our own, we consider ourselves failures.

That’s where the successful agers come in.

© Ambro at
© Ambro at

What, you say? What does successful aging have to do with successful caregiving? Just hear me out. I recently read about an interesting study in a scientific journal called The Gerontologist that focused on elders’ definitions of successful aging. Although these elders were diverse in racial-ethnic background, all of them had one thing in common – they all experienced some kind of late-life disability.

Through semi-structured interviews, the elders expressed a strong theme that they felt they had aged successfully despite their disabilities. How did they do this? Because they adapted to their changing circumstances instead of caved to them.

I love this study because it counters a lot of researchers’ conceptions of successful aging, which they equate with an absence of disability. These dignified elders said “No way, don’t tell us we haven’t aged successfully just because life threw us a curveball! We won because we adapted. We’re successful because we didn’t give in or give up.”

Do you see now why I thought of successful caregiving when I read about this study? You have the power to define yourself as a successful caregiver. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to complete the caregiving journey without any monkey wrenches, bumps in the road, or mistakes. What matters is that you adapt to those curveballs and keep on moving forward.

Successful caregiving is in the eye of the beholder. And that beholder is you.


Romo, R. D., Wallhagen, M. I., Yourman, L., Yeung, C. C., Eng, C., et al. (2012). Perceptions of successful aging among diverse elders with late-life disability. The Gerontologist, Advance Access, doi: 10.1093/geront/gns160

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