When we tell people we are a caregiver, what does that mean to us and to them? Do we have the same understanding as to what services caregivers provide? Webster’s dictionary describes a caregiver as a person who provides direct care (as for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill). That definition could mean the caregiver comes into the home on a regular basis, lives in the home, or the person being cared for travels to the care givers location.
Here are some interesting statistics regarding caregiving according to the National Alliance for Caregiving:
- More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.
- The value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).
- The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren less than 18 year’s old living with them.
I hope these statistics give you some idea of what is involved when someone says “I am a caregiver.” Giving care to another person, whether at an outside facility or as a live-in family member, can take its toll if proper precautions are not taken care of.
No matter what type of illness or condition a person has, there are certain steps a caregiver can take to stay healthy and to prevent caregiver burnout. For instance:
Understand what your role is as a caregiver and what your specific duties are. If you have been hired by the family, make sure you get everything in writing so that you know what the requirements are. If you are a family member that has moved in with a parent or the parent has moved in with you, it takes a period of adjustment to truly understand what they are still able to do and what you need to take over.
If they have a condition such as dementia or a physical condition where they lose their ability to take care of themselves, you will need to take on more responsibilities as time goes by. Make sure you are willing to play a greater role in caring for them before you agree to make life changes. Once you and your family are in agreement, it is very difficult to change the arrangements unless the parent passes away or goes into some kind of assisted living or nursing home care.
Stay informed as to what their illness is and what can be done for them as the illness progresses. If they are going through the aging process rather than a specific illness, read about what you might expect in the future. It is beneficial to know what might be symptoms of an illness and what part of the normal aging process is.
Have someone you can talk to. Whether you are able to talk to a family member or a close friend, or even if you see a counselor on a regular basis, you need someone to help you put everything in perspective. This is especially important as they get older or their illness progresses.
Solve problems as they arise. There are going to be times when problems crop up. It is best to not let them go without addressing concerns or issues. If possible, solve one problem at a time and take each day as it comes. Don’t let unsolved issues stack up to the point where you feel overwhelmed.
Take care of your own needs first. To the extent that you can, make sure you are taking care of yourself. It’s not always possible to be able to sleep eight hours straight, but take frequent rest breaks so that you don’t wear yourself out. Make sure you are eating the right foods and giving yourself time to pursue your own interests. Arrange for someone else to spend a few hours with your family member so that you can get out of the home for a time of respite.
Stay in touch with other family members. Let them know what is going on to the extent they are interested. In my situation with Dad, I send an email when there is news that everyone should hear. One of my family members calls on a weekly basis to find out how Dad is doing and often calls just to see how I am. That really helps me know that someone cares and understands. Very refreshing to be able to talk about something other than the person I am caring for.
Seek local or online support. Remember also that many towns and especially cities have support groups that you can join, or join an online forum that has to do with whatever your family member is dealing with. You can join the conversation, ask questions, or share your concerns with others who are going through similar situations. I’ve done that before and it is really helpful
Whatever you do, do not isolate yourself from family, people or life. Especially don’t abandon yourself. You cannot take care of another person if you do not take care of yourself. And remember, you are the most important person in the caregiving equation. For further information contact the National Family Caregivers Association by clicking on this link.