Northwestern Press

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Care for the caregiver first

Thursday, May 31, 2018 by The Press in Opinion

A few weeks ago I heard a startling statistic that frightened me.

During a caregivers’ class at a local hospital, the facilitator told attendees that 80 percent of caregivers die before their patient does.

Initially, that news sounded unbelievable. Surely there was some mistake.

But the more I thought about that high figure, the more sense it made.

Often caregivers are consumed by the strenuous routine required in providing 24-hour care for a loved one who is dependent on them.

According to studies, the caregiving role is tremendously stressful.

Caregivers suffer higher rates of chronic illness and mental problems than noncaregivers.

This is not a surprising revelation to anyone in that role.

Every caregiver I know will verify the accuracy of the research findings.

Caregiving is an exhausting job we never applied for, trained for or wanted.

The caregiving work we do for our relative does not come with a paycheck, days off, paid vacations or benefits.

Many caregivers toil day and night, without a break, so no wonder they often suffer emotional and physical health problems.

Primary or sole caregivers also feel a greater sense of isolation from their families and friends than other folks who are not caregivers.

Burnout is a real problem if caregivers do not find ways to care for themselves.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, caregiver stress manifests itself through several warning signs, in addition to health problems.

Caregivers may feel anxious about the future, be it tomorrow or next year.

Depression affects caregivers’ ability to cope. They may withdraw from activities and people that once were a source of pleasure.

Exhaustion and sleeplessness make it impossible to complete necessary daily tasks. Caregivers feel overwhelmed.

They may become withdrawn, moody or irritable.

Sometimes they lose focus and are unable to concentrate.

Anger at the person being cared for or frustration at not being able to live life as before are other common signs of caregiver stress.

For their own well-being and the well-being of their ill loved one, caregivers need to develop coping skills.

Primary among these skills is finding time for oneself. Caregivers should give themselves time to relax and rest and do something enjoyable.

Many caregivers use their loved one’s nap time as “me” time.

Respite care should be obtained regularly from family, friends, adult day care facilities, in-home aides or companions and other community resources.

Caregivers also need exercise, rest and a healthy diet in order to properly care for themselves.

Becoming familiar with community assistance, such as classes, support groups, home-care services, online workshops and organizations that might be able to help can aid caregivers in managing daily tasks and learning new caregiving skills.

Being able to blow off steam regularly is another important coping skill.

A caregiver needs to be able to talk openly and honestly with a trusted friend, family member or support group. It is not healthy to hold the stress inside.

Humor is a wonderful coping skill. Laughter really is a potent medicine.

By taking good care of themselves first, including asking for help, caregivers can feel more confident they will be alive and in good health to keep their loved one safe and well cared for as the disease progresses.

Caregiving is a demanding job. Sharing the caring can lessen its burden.