Dr. Alexis FAQ's: CARING for the CAREGIVER

Hello all!  As promised I'm posting regular "Ask Dr. Alexis" frequently asked questions.  This time the subject is "Caring for the Caregiver"....I hope you can glean some applicable tips and information from this Q&A.  If you have any questions - or would like to add any additional suggestions/ideas/thoughts to this blog - please feel free to email me at info@abramson.com.  I very much look forward to hearing from you!

What is caregiver fatigue? Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver's body, mind and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness -- and, ultimately, burnout.

Why do some caregivers not ask for help? Caregivers sometimes become so involved in the day-to-day efforts of caring for a loved one that may forget to let others know that they need additional assistance with providing care, or just need a break from the work of caring for someone.

Are caregivers unaware of support services? Not always.  A recent study of Alzheimer’s caregivers found that 75% had unmet needs; only 48% of caregivers have reported using outside services (e.g., transportation, home-delivered meals, respite, etc.) to supplement their caregiving.

Are employers usually supportive to caregivers in the workforce?  Yes. Increasingly, companies are offering resource materials, counseling and training programs to help caregivers. 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. American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees' need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older. Caregivers caring for elderly loved ones cost employers 8% more in health care costs estimated to be worth $13.4 billion per year.

What is the best way to involve the entire family in caring for an ailing loved one?  A caregiver can and should ask other family members to share in caregiving. A family conference can help sort out everyone’s tasks and schedules. Also, involve older children living at home who can assist you and/or your loved one. Such responsibility can help young people become more empathic, responsible, and self-confident and give you needed support. Friends and neighbors also may be willing to provide transportation, respite care, and help with shopping, household chores or repairs.

Is it rude for a caregiver to be specific about what type of help others can offer?  Absolutely not! In fact the more specific a caregiver is the better. Create a list of things that need to be done, such as grocery shopping, laundry, errands, lawn care, housecleaning, or spending time with your loved one or friend, 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” give them something on the list. This way you can really be sure that things that need to be done are getting done. 

What are some other practical things that a caregiver can do to help maintain their sense of self and well being so that they can provide the best care to their loved one?

  • Eat healthy. Your health and nutrition is just as important as your loved one's, so take the time to eat well. If you are having difficulty doing that, ask for help and get others to fix meals for you.
  • Subscribe to caregiving newsletters or list serves for support.
  • Attend a support group for caregivers. Check with your doctor, hospice or local ‘Area Agency on Aging’ for groups that meet for this purpose. See also ‘Family Caregiver 101’ for more about caregiver support groups.
  • If needed, seek professional help. Many caregivers have times when they feel 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 for help.
  • Exercise. Whether it is a 20 minute walk outside or taking a yoga class, exercising is a great way to take respite, decease stress and enhance your energy.
  • Most importantly, take regular respite from caregiving!!! Even if it is only 15 or 20 minutes a day, make sure you do something just for you.

For those who may not know, please explain exactly what "respite" is:  Respite simply means taking a break. It provides caregivers 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 loved one or friend
  • A short-term stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility for the loved one or friend
  • A home health aide or home health companion
  • A private duty nurse

Respite for the caregiver might be:

  • 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.

What are some other dangers associated with caregivers not taking care of themselves?  Sometimes people handle stressful situations in ways that are destructive. Instead of openly expressing feelings and seeking help, they overeat, use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes to mask their difficulties. Such escapes do not solve the problem and are harmful to health. This type of strain can result in serious problems such as neglecting or abusing the care receiver which against the law!

Caregivers getting the care they need is extremely important!  Absolutely! Caregivers should continue to pursue activities and social contacts outside their homes. Do what you enjoy. Go to a movie, play a musical instrument, or get together with friends for a card game. It may not be easy to schedule these activities, but the rewards for having balance in your life are great. Taking care of yourself benefits you and your care receiver. Meeting your own needs will satisfy you and give you additional strength and vigor to bring to your caregiving tasks.



Sources: www.caregiver.org, www.caringinfo.org, www.thefamilycaregiver.org 

www.revolutionhealth.com, www.caregiverstress.com, www.ec-online.net