March 14, 2019
Caring for the Caregivers
The role of caregiver for a loved one can be overwhelming. Not only are you watching your loved one suffer from illness, dementia, disability, or advanced age, you are also keeping their life—and your life—running smoothly.
As a caregiver, you are responsible for everything from the physical needs such as cooking and bathing, but also the logistical tasks of grocery shopping, paying bills, keeping the house clean, and taking your loved one to doctor’s appointments. You may be doing all of those things while raising your children and juggling work responsibilities.
The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates approximately 43.5 million people are providing unpaid care each year to an adult or child. Nearly 60 percent of those caregivers also work outside of the home in addition to the role of caregiver.
Caregiver Health Concerns
Caregivers need to stop and assess if they are putting their health and well-being at risk by taking on too much. Many caregivers report:
- Alcohol abuse
- Declining physical health
- Failure to exercise
- High levels of depression
- High levels of hostility and anger
- Loss of sleep
- Low levels of self-care
- Mental or emotional strain
- Poor eating habits
- Postponement of medical appointments for themselves
- Weight loss or weight gain
8 Tips for Caregivers
If you are a caregiver, you should understand the toll juggling so much can have on your health and happiness. The following tips can help you manage your role and your responsibilities in caring for your loved one.
- Ask for help and support. Often guilt stops a caregiver from reaching out for help. It is essential that you ask friends and family for support and help during this time. If you have a friend that is a good cook, ask them to set aside a single serving of a meal that can be frozen for dinners.
- Asking a friend to help by picking up groceries can save time. Reach out to others and ask for help when you need it.
- Accept all help and support. When someone offers to help—let them. Have a list of tasks you can easily give someone else do and when they offer. Most people want to help but they have no idea how to help you. Don’t miss an opportunity to get help.
- Locate community resources. Many communities have services that can help, including Meals on Wheels, adult day care services, home care, home health, home monitoring systems, or respite care. Look to see what services are available in your local community and use them. They not only provide the help you need, but they offer tips and tricks to make your job a little easier.
- Get the entire family involved. Taking care of a loved one in need will take a team of people. Have a regular family discussion about what is needed and ask for assistance. Dividing chores and responsibilities can help ease the burden for one person.
- Take a break. When you start to feel overwhelmed it is important to take a break. Find local respite care or hand off responsibilities to another family member for a period of time. Don’t feel guilty—you need time to recharge.
- Make exercise a priority. Don’t let your exercise routine take a back seat. Exercise can help you deal with stress and keep your energy levels high. You need to make your health a priority during this time.
- Get proper rest and nutrition. It is essential that you get adequate sleep and eat healthy, nutritious meals. Don’t skip a meal because you are too tired, it can provide you with the essential nutrients you need.
- Recognize signs of caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is real—don’t put your own health at risk. Signs of burnout include depression, irritability, sleep problems, and forgetfulness.
Caring for a loved one can be deeply rewarding, but it can also drain your physical and emotional energy. Make sure that you take care of yourself and look for support within your family, community, or online. You don’t need to do this alone.
Kimberly Mains is a licensed social worker (LSW) with Susquehanna Home Care & Hospice. Susquehanna Home Care & Hospice, owned by Home Nursing Agency and Visiting Nurse Association, part of UPMC Community Providers Services, is the region's largest, most comprehensive home healthcare company, offering a complete range of services including traditional visiting nurse services, hospice inpatient and outpatient, telemonitoring, Nurse-Family Partnership, rehabilitation services and home infusion.