Caregiving can be a full time job. Even if a caregiver is spending only four hours a day with their patient, you can guarantee that their mind is on the job for the remaining 20 hours each day. The caregiver is often overlooked in the care continuum, despite the fact that they need care themselves.
For non-professional caregivers, caring for a family member who is chronically ill or disabled can be emotionally and physically demanding. More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care and attention for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These caregivers are predominantly middle-aged women, spending an average of 20 hours per week on their caregiving responsibilities. This commitment can interfere with their jobs and relationships, and create health issues like high blood pressure and anxiety.
The fact of the matter is that caregivers go to the doctor so often with their patient or loved one, that it is just too burdensome to consider going to see a doctor themselves. Caregivers can easily become as isolated as their patient may be. The emotional needs of caregivers can easily go unmet. Those providing care can feel compromised if they enjoy themselves instead of being with their patients. What if they need something? How quickly can I be there? Guilt comes with the territory. However, when it starts to overwhelm the caregiver, it can quickly impact well-being.
Caregivers can do a lot to lessen pressure on themselves. Delegating responsibilities to other family members is a great start. Friends and families may be more willing to help than one might assume. At the very least the family can be kept in the loop about what’s going on. They can support bringing in a family friend, social worker or counselor, to ease the burden on the primary caregiver.
There are support groups for caregivers. These can be found in community centers and hospitals and online. They provide a forum for caregivers to connect with others who are in the same situation. When the discussion centers on the legal side of caregiving, financial matters or medical resources, sharing information and resources can help immensely. National, state, and local disease-specific organizations also have programs and in-home services to provide a respite for caregivers.
The important thing for a caregiver to do is make sure their patient or loved one is well cared for. Just as important though, is that the caregiver makes sure that they are well taken care of as well. It’s a mutually important dynamic, and if one part of the caregiver/patient team is weakened, the other is apt to be too. Caregivers need to pay attention to themselves to stay healthy and strong.