Support for Caregivers
Written By: Michele Bayno BSW, BA
Are you a caregiver? If you are, you are playing a very important role in a loved-one’s life. As he or she’s health begins to deteriorate, they may increasingly need your help with grocery shopping, driving them to medical appointments and other errands, and even preparing meals for them. Whatever tasks you are doing as a caregiver, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed, resentful, exhausted and burnt out. These feelings are normal.
Being a caregiver can take on a heavy toll if you don’t get the required support. As people live longer, more and more family members will be involved at one point in their lives in caretaking of an elderly friend or relative. You must consider the reality that both your mental and physical health may deteriorate since caretaking can take on a life of its own. It may cause stress in many areas of your life; it may disrupt the family dynamic and routine you have achieved in your household; it may cause you to take time off work, which could create some financial strain. Another important consideration is all the work that caring for a senior may entail. The sad reality may not be a happy ending for the caretaker.
As stress becomes a daily reality for you, frustrations and anger may turn into “burnout,” and you may end up resenting the person you are taking care of. The good news is that there are healthy coping mechanisms that you can use to set limits right now.
Education is power:
Educate yourself as much as you can concerning your loved one’s illness. Contact support groups in your area and connect with others who are living the same situation as yourself. Many resources are available in you district concerning the illness your loved one suffers from and free help may be available. Contact your local community care center to obtain information on possible resources.
Be honest about your limitations:
Be honest with the one you are caring for, their doctor, family members, and everyone involved. Be clear about what you are able to contribute, and what you are not. Doing this eliminates confusion for all involved.
Accept how you feel:
Don’t deny how you feel. Be honest with yourself. Caretaking can cause resentment, anger, fear, guilt, loss of control. These feelings are perfectly normal and talking to someone you trust (a friend, therapist, or support group) concerning how you are feeling before you burnout can be a great help. Once you have reached the point of burnout, being a caretaker is no longer a healthy option for you.
Common warning signs of burnout include:
· Decreased levels of energy
· Catch colds easily and frequently
· Always tired, no matter how much sleep you get per night
· Neglect of your own needs
· Life revolves around care giving
· Feelings of resentment, anger and irritability
· Difficulty relaxing
· Impatience towards the person you are taking care of
· Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, helpless and hopeless
If you are experiencing any of these signs, be assured that there is help available to support you, and to give you a hand with the day to day activities of caretaking. Your community should have many services and home care agencies that include services such as adult day care centers, home health aids, “Meal on Wheels”, respite care for caregivers, transportation services and nursing care. Your local community care center or hospital social services can inform you of such services that are available in both the private and public sectors. The cost of these services is often based on a sliding scale, or a portion may be covered by an insurance policy, and some may even be free.
If the person you are caring for is a war veteran, you should contact your local veterans affair department and find out what type of subsidies are available.
As a caregiver it is of utmost importance to seek emotional support. By speaking with others, you will find out that you are not alone and you will learn valuable knowledge from others who are living the same situation. Such support can come from a trusted friend, support groups (such as the forum on this site), and therapists. To find a community support group, check the yellow pages, ask your doctor or hospital, or do a search on the internet for local organizations that deal with the particular health problem with which your loved-one was diagnosed. Such organizations may have support groups or online support forums that you can participate in.
Lastly, if you are a caregiver, take good care of yourself. Engage in activities that you enjoy: pamper yourself, book a message or another type of service that you find pleasurable, eat healthy meals, exercise, and try to get seven hours of sleep per night. Arrange a social support network so that you don’t isolate yourself.
Caretaking can be a wonderful and rewarding journey for both you and your loved one if the proper boundaries and support services are set up.
Edited by: Stephanie Thurston