If you are helping a family member or friend over age 50 with things such as dressing, bathing, housework, or taking medicine on a regular basis, then you are a caregiver. You are not alone—there are close to 50 million Americans involved in caregiving. Caregivers spend an average of 20 hours each week caring for one (or more) older adults. About one in four of caregivers have been giving care for more than five years. About three in four caregivers work a paying job and spend up to $5000 out of pocket each year to help with caregiving costs.
Caregiving has been a part of community life for a long time. These days, the amount and types of help provided by family caregivers has increased a great deal. This has also raised the costs of caregiving—both economic and psychological. Now, loved ones often come home from the hospital earlier and with more complicated conditions. This means that caregivers often take on many roles in addition to providing companionship and emotional support. Caregivers may give medications, find and coordinate services, and perform basic nursing. They also communicate with healthcare providers, coordinate care during transitions from hospital to home, and advocate for their loved ones during visits with healthcare providers and hospital stays.
Caregivers are at higher risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression because of the burden of these many roles. Their physical health may also suffer. It is normal for caregivers to feel alone and overwhelmed. Caregivers may also feel unable to communicate well with the person receiving care and/or other family members. They also report needing information on how to keep their loved ones safe at home and to find activities to do with them. And caregivers also need resources to help them manage their own stress and make time for themselves.
In our recent study of geriatrics health providers who are also caregivers, we found all of these challenges. Even those most prepared to handle all the different caregiving tasks found it very difficult. If you are a caregiver AND a healthcare professional, you may face additional burdens—and will also benefit from support. [You can click here to read the full study.]
What You Can Do
In order to cope with the demands of caregiving, all caregivers need to get help. It is good to ask questions, and to ask for help! If you are not happy with the answers you are getting, it’s important to keep asking. Also keep looking for the information and support that you need, perhaps from other resources. There are many places you can look to for help: hospitals, your community, and online resources.
It is especially important to find a way to take some time for yourself and take care of your own health and well-being. Stay connected to friends and other enjoyable activities. Continue to do the things that give you pleasure, and think of that “me time” as energy. These steps will help you continue to be a good and rested caregiver.
If you are a caregiver, self-care can help you balance the stressing with the blessings. Taking time to recognize the blessings that come along with caregiving can give you a new outlook. These blessings can include having a chance to say things you’ve never said to your family member, to laugh together, or to cry together. You may have the chance to have a closeness you may not have had before, and it may help you to have no regrets after your family member is gone. Caregiving can also give you a chance to give back love and attention, to spend time you may not have had with your family member, and to strengthen family bonds.