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Caring For The Caregiver

As you may have experienced, caring for a family member or friend is not easy, nor is it something most of us are prepared to do. Like most people, you have probably had questions about your family member or friend’s illness or condition, and have spent time finding answers to those questions.

Now that you have learned about the basics of caregiving, and better understand how to provide care, there may still be times when you feel overwhelmed or unable to care for your family member’s or friend’s needs.

This section will give you information and practical tips for managing the stress of being a caregiver by attending to your personal needs. Though they may seem selfish, these ideas will help you continue to provide care for as long as your family member or friend needs it.

Caregivers of chronically ill older persons or those with disabilities are generous, compassionate individuals. They care for family members or friends in the familiar surroundings of their own home or community. These caregivers are “on call” 24-hours a day, 7 days a week because they want to see their family member or friend remain in the comfort and security of their own environment. But at some point, even the caregiver needs a break, a rest, or a breather.

As caregivers, we sometimes become so involved in the day-to-day efforts to keep things going we may forget to let others know we need additional assistance with providing care, or just need a break from the routine of caring for someone.

Some ways to make your needs known include:

Work Options. If you are a working caregiver, it is important to discuss your needs with your employer. Telecommuting, flextime, job sharing or rearranging your schedule can help to minimize stress. Increasingly, companies are offering resource materials, counseling, and training programs to help caregivers.

Involve Older Children. Older children living at home may be able to assist you and/or your older family member. Such responsibility, provided it is not overly burdensome, can help young people become more empathic, responsible, and self-confident and give you needed support.

Ask Others to Help. You can and should ask other family members to share in caregiving. A family conference can help sort out everyone’s tasks and schedules. Friends and neighbors also may be willing to provide transportation, respite care, and help with shopping, household chores or repairs.

Create a list of things that need to be done, such as grocery shopping, laundry, errands, lawn care, housecleaning, or spending time with the care recipient, and put it on the refrigerator or near the front door. If someone says, “let me know if there is anything I can do to help” you can point to the list.

Take a break from caregiving. Even if it is only 15 or 20 minutes a day, make sure you do something just for you.

Exercise. Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes, three times a week. This is a great way to take a break, decrease stress and enhance your energy.

Eat healthy. To help give you more energy, avoid foods that are high in:

  • Saturated fats
  • Sugar
  • Salts, chemical preservatives and additives
  • Calories

Your health and nutrition is just as important as the person you are caring for so take the time to eat three nutritious meals a day. If you have having difficulty do that, ask for help and get others to fix meals for you.

Subscribe to caregiving newsletters or Listservs for advice/support.

Attend a support group for caregivers. Check with your doctor, CIMA HOSPICE or the local Area Agency on Aging for groups that meet for this purpose.

Seek professional help. Many caregivers have times when they are lonely, anxious, guilty, angry, scared, frustrated, confused, lost and tired. If you feel like these feelings are overwhelming you, call your doctor, hospice or another community resource (see below) for help.

Respite--Taking a Break.

Caregivers need respite. Respite provides informal caregivers - usually family member or friends - a break from their daily responsibilities. Respite can cover a wide range of services based upon the unique needs of the caregiver.

Respite might mean:

  • Medical or social adult day care for the family member or friend
  • A short-term stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility for the family member or friend
  • A home health aide or home health companion
  • A private duty nurse
  • Adult foster care

The enactment of the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 (Public Law 106-501) established the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Funding for this program allows states to work in partnership with area agencies on aging and local and community service providers to provide systems of support for family caregivers. A specific component of these systems is respite.

For the caregiver, personal respite varies as much as the individual and could be, for example:

  • Giving the caregiver a short break for a doctor’s appointment or to go shopping
  • Allowing the caregiver the opportunity to nap, bathe, or otherwise rejuvenate
  • A break to attend a church service or see a movie
  • Taking a much-needed vacation
  • Pampering oneself with a hair appointment or manicure
  • Scheduling elective surgery
  • Simply visiting friends or other family members

However you choose to take a break, make sure you do it often enough to maintain a healthy balance between caregiving and your personal needs.