Caring for the Caregiver
It's human nature to help others when they are sick and cannot take care of themselves. Someone with an acute illness like a broken leg, the flu or appendicitis will usually get better with proper care and treatment. It is fairly easy to put life on short-term hold while you nurse someone back to good health.
Providing long term care for someone who has a chronic illness, such as a stroke, dementia or a permanent disability can be difficult. It is estimated that 16.1 million Americans are providing unpaid care for people with dementia. A disease such as Alzheimer’s can impact caregivers both at home and at work.
Who are the caregivers?
Roughly 80% of the care that is provided at home is delivered by family members. Over half of these are still employed and often report late to work, take time off or end up quitting their jobs. These caregivers provided about 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care last year. The economic value of this care was more than $232 billion dollars. Caregiving can take a toll on both the caregiver’s health and wealth.
Caring for a caregiver — what you can do to help
Many caregivers often put aside taking care of their own needs to tend to the care of their loved one. It is common for the care giver to skip annual health checkups and not get the proper nutrition and rest they need to perform at their best.
Caregivers often struggle with feelings of isolation, frustration, resentment, grief and guilt. This, coupled with the financial challenges of illness, not fully understanding the situation, or knowing when to seek help can all add up. It can lead to depression. If the caregiver does not learn strategies for taking better care of themselves, they could become the second victim of the family member’s illness.
So what can we do?
- Offer to help them with daily tasks. Running an errand or picking up a few groceries can be a big relief to the caregiver.
- Give them a break!
- Stay with the care receiver while the care giver goes to the doctor for a routine checkup.
- Bring a simple meal for them. Usually the simpler and easier it is to re-heat or eat the better
- Send a card of encouragement to the caregiver. It is tough to deal with a loved one who has a chronic illness, so try and offer some positive words of encouragement to them.
- Take them for a walk around the block. Sometimes a few minutes of exercise coupled with fresh air and a sympathetic ear can go a long way to give them a boost.
- Help them find local resources for support with their situation.
- Call them on the phone more frequently.
- Take them out for coffee.
- Encourage them to take time for themselves. Thinking of their own health is not selfish. Taking care of themselves benefits everyone.
Sources: Powerful Tools for Caregivers and Alzheimer’s Association, “Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia”