The Ins and Outs of CaregivingShare. Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 2:22am The Ins and Outs of Caregiving In 2000, the National Family Caregivers Association reported that more than 25% of the adult population provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend. Caregiving can range from giving medications, helping with meals, assisting with personal care, to performing nursing procedures. One thing all caregivers have in common, whether caring for a spouse, loved one, child or parent, is that they take on a role that they hoped they’d never have to perform.
Dealing with the additional demands on resources and emotions can be extremely difficult for many caregivers. The time it takes to care for someone else often translates into less time to care for you. Your feelings may range from anger and sadness to anxiety and guilt. It is vitally important for caregivers to deal with their feelings about their role as a caregiver and to take time to care for themselves.
Dealing With Your Emotions
It is important to deal with your emotions before you get to a breaking point. Sometimes it helps to talk with other family members and friends. Caregivers often are reluctant to share their frustrations with family members and friends because they feel guilty for feeling frustrated or angry or sad because they are caring for someone they love. Such feelings are normal – caregiving greatly affects your life so it’s normal to have feelings of anger and sadness and guilt for feeling angry and sad. Don’t think of yourself as a burden when you share your feelings – think of such times as an opportunity to release pent up emotions and relieve some of your burden. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with family members or friends because you’re afraid they’ll think less of you or because you don’t want to be a burden, ask your physician to recommend a therapist or psychologist. Visiting a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy or unable to cope—therapists and psychologists allow you express your emotions in a safe and neutral environment and can help you develop a plan for dealing with your emotions and taking care of yourself.
Some caregivers feel better when they feel in control of a situation, and unfortunately, caregiving often leads to feelings of lack of control. You can’t control how well your loved one is doing, you can’t control the good or bad days, and you can’t control the disease process that is affecting your loved one’s body. Feeling a lack of control often leads to anxiety. Increasing your knowledge about a loved one’s condition and developing a plan of action often helps you feel comfortable with your situation. The Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York developed the following list of steps caregivers can take to create a plan of action:
1.Determine what your loved one needs in terms of care. Write down all aspects of caring for the individual. This includes administering medications, help with activities of daily living, transportation to doctors’ appointments, and any other care your loved one needs. 2.Determine which care needs you can provide. After you determine what caring for your loved one involves, you can evaluate your resources (e.g., time, physical ability, etc). Decide what you are realistically capable of doing. You may be able to handle all the doctor’s visits and keeping track of all the medications, but that may not leave time for meal preparation or housekeeping. 3.Determine which care needs can be met by others. Caregivers often feel compelled to do everything and avoid placing a burden on others, but it is important to ask for help. Getting help can prevent caregiver burnout. 4.Identify people who can help you with caregiving. Whether they be family members or friends, it’s important to have a list of individuals you can turn to for help. Help may come in many forms – some individuals may be able to help you with legal advice and tips for dealing with insurance companies, others may be happy to bring a meal or run an errand, and some might even help just by providing emotional support or visiting your loved one while you have some time for yourself. 5.Determine if you need professional help (e.g., nursing care, transportation). If you are not comfortable performing certain medical procedures, you should seek professional help. Depending on your loved one’s level of disability, he or she may prefer having professional help for personal care. Your own level of health and well-being may determine if you’re able to help your loved one walk or get into bed. If you are unable to perform the physical aspects of care, seek help. Asking for Help
One of the most difficult things for caregivers to do is to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure on your part. It is simply recognizing that the situation you are in requires more than one person’s time and attention. Take the initial first step and ask for help. Be specific about the help you need (e.g., running an errand or cooking a meal, transporting your loved one to the doctor’s on a day when you can’t). Better yet, accept help when it’s offered.
Balancing Life and Caregiving
As you know, you were busy with life before you were a caregiver – work, family commitments and other responsibilities took up all of your time. Now, you’ve got another full-time job – caring for a loved one. Your work may suffer, family relationships and friendships may suffer, and your own mental and physical health may suffer. Balancing life and caregiving is vital to your own well-being and to avoiding caregiver burnout.
Telling Work Your instinct may be to keep your problems to yourself and not tell your supervisor or coworkers about your situation, but doctors’ appointments and other care needs can interfere with your work schedule. It is important to talk to your supervisor about your situation but to keep in mind his or her needs as your employer. It may be possible to work out a flexible schedule with your supervisor. Other options include working from home on some days or even job sharing if you can afford it. If none of these options work, you may need to research your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Dealing with Other Family Responsibilities Caregiving can take a toll on your relationships with other family members and friends. You don’t have as much time to spend with others and you don’t have as much energy. Your other family members and friends may feel neglected. Remember that it’s important to maintain familial relationships and friendships. Keep communication open and explain why you don’t have time to go to a family member’s activity. You may be able to work out a solution and your family members may gain a greater understanding of your role and responsibilities.
Avoiding Caregiver Burnout
According to the Cleveland Clinic, caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs when caregivers try to do more than they are able or when they don’t get the help they need from others. Caregivers experiencing burnout may feel fatigued, anxious, depressed, or stressed. One of the most important factors in avoiding caregiver burnout is taking care of yourself. If you take care of yourself, you are better able to care for your loved one.
Signs of Burnout Signs of caregiver burnout include depression, anxiety, changes in appetite or weight, insomnia or sleeping more, withdrawal from family members and friends, irritability, and physical and emotional exhaustion. Caregivers experiencing burnout may feel like they just can’t cope anymore.
Preventing Burnout One of the best ways to prevent caregiver burnout is to remember to focus on you a little bit. Focusing on yourself can range from finding someone to talk about your feelings and challenges to setting aside some time for you to do something you enjoy or that rejuvenates you (e.g., walking, reading). It also is important to ask for help – no matter how hard you try, you might not be able to do it all. Do not feel guilty or think you are failing in your role as a caregiver if you need help. Obtaining help will prevent you from burning out. It also is important to take care of yourself. Eating right, exercising, and getting adequate sleep are imperative for your own health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you keep your energy and spirits up. Most of all, go easy on yourself – having feelings of anger and frustration are normal. These feelings do not make you a bad person, they simply mean you are human. Try and talk with other caregivers as they often can relate to your feelings.
Given all of your responsibilities as a caregiver, family member, worker, and more, it may seem impossible to carve out some time for yourself, but such time is a necessity to maintaining a healthy body, mind and spirit. Exercise is a great stress release and energy booster. Even if you don’t have time to exercise, you can try simple stretches or relaxation techniques to get yourself a little 10-minute break. Yoga, meditation, guided imagery and deep breathing exercises can help you refocus and relieve stress. Most of all, remember you are doing the best you can.
Sources and Resources
•National Family Caregivers Association, http://thefamilycaregiver.org/ •The Cleveland Clinic, http://www.clevelandclinic.org/health/health-info/docs/2300/2308.asp and http://www.clevelandclinic.org/health/health-info/docs/2200/2241.asp •Wellspouse Foundation, http://www.wellspouse.org/ •Family Caregiver Alliance, http://www.caregiver.org/ •National Caregivers Library, http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/ •Today’s Caregiver Magazine, http://www.caregiver.com/