Life and Death

It takes a village – Caring for the family caregiver

Posted 7/6/22

If there are more than 53 million family caregivers in the U.S., we all know someone doing this challenging and compassionate work, and they need our support. It is work, requiring physical and …

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Life and Death

It takes a village – Caring for the family caregiver

Posted

If there are more than 53 million family caregivers in the U.S., we all know someone doing this challenging and compassionate work, and they need our support. It is work, requiring physical and emotional effort to keep a loved one safe and assist with the tasks they can no longer accomplish. Caregiving has many rewards and can be an incredibly meaningful experience.

Spending time together, sharing memories and providing personal care can strengthen connections and provide a sense of purpose. It may also offer an opportunity to pay back someone who once cared for us and to demonstrate family responsibility. Often the experience is a mix of positive moments interspersed with times of stress.

The role of caregiver is not always expected and is often born of necessity. It can happen overnight or develop gradually over time. With little to no previous training, many feel unprepared and inadequate. The skills required to manage medications, special diets and medical treatments can feel especially daunting.

There may be additional responsibilities of a job, young children or other family members who need help. It is important to mention the potential financial implications for a caregiver who needs to reduce work hours or retire early. Medical equipment, home renovations and home care services can further the strain on a budget.

With the added physical and emotional responsibilities of being a caregiver, they are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Much depends on the underlying relationship with the person requiring the care, and each situation has its own story to tell.

When there is a serious illness that has precipitated the need for a caregiver, this adds another layer of unpredictability and stress. Social networks may dwindle, which can lead to a sense of isolation, a consistent comment from family caregivers.

Attention and resources tend to be appropriately focused on the person needing the care, while the needs of their primary caregiver may go unnoticed. This is where we as “the village” come in.

Staying in touch with routine phone calls or inspirational cards and texts can help caregivers maintain important connections. Listening carefully to their stories and sharing a cry or a laugh together is real life therapy. Continue to invite and include caregivers in events. Maybe they need someone to accompany them to medical appointments or to stop in for an hour or two so they can take a walk or get a haircut.

When leaving the house is difficult, the list of to-dos may start to mount. Assisting with an errand, picking up groceries, running to the library, dropping off a meal, watering the garden or walking the dog could all make a meaningful difference in a day in the life of a family caregiver.

There is an increasing number of resources available for caregivers, but they may not have the time or the energy to find them, and we can help. Do they need information on adult day care programs, or home care and respite services to get additional assistance into the home? Finding related books, websites, support groups, and organizations could uncover valuable information and resources.

There are apps for building and organizing an informal team of supporters, such as caringvillage.com and lotsahelpinghands.com. There is even a website that has a list of the best apps for caregivers: https://www.whereyoulivematters.org/best-caregiver-apps/

Many caregivers need reminding to care for their own body, mind, and spirit. They should be encouraged to keep up with their own medical and self-care. This is not a luxury, but a necessary part of their caregiving responsibilities and can help prevent burnout.

Would a pedicure, massage or coffee with a friend be welcome? Can we help make that happen? So often it is the little things that can make all the difference.

If “old age is not for sissies,” then neither is caregiving. Caregivers need our support individually and as a community. Asking for help is difficult for many people and they may wait until they are running on empty. We can simply ask: “What is the best way I could help you today?”

Bonnie Evans, RN, MS, GNP-BC, lives in Bristol and is a geriatric nurse practitioner and End of Life Doula.  She can be reached at bonnie@bonnieevansdoula.com.

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