Coping as a Caregiver
"For Spouses, Family & Friends"
National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA)
Provides some general, but useful, suggestions for caregivers. The Life Raft Group does not endorse or recommend any particular care organization.
Sometimes it happens so slowly that you barely notice. Other times the change is rapid. One day you're not a caregiver and the next you are. Statistics show that 25 percent of Americans, according to the National Alliance on Caregiving/AARP survey (1996) are caregivers, and as our population ages the numbers will grow. A caregiver is anyone who provides support or hands-on assistance to another, whether they're a relative, a friend or a neighbor.
Caregiving brings its own challenges: isolation, difficulty asking for help. Most often caregivers put the needs of others above themselves, forgetting to replenish their own supply of energy. Of course, caregiving has its rewards as well. The knowledge you made a difference. The ability to keep your loved one home where she wants to be. Still, few family caregivers are trained in the practices of caring for another individual. For instance, what is the proper technique for transferring a loved one from a bed to a chair without injuring oneself. And what about the shortcuts and resources that relieve some of the caregiving challenges? Instead, caregivers find their own way, usually after expending tremendous time and energy before they hit upon a particular solution or successful strategies.
There are other issues that complicate the roles of caregivers. Interestingly, 75 percent of caregivers tend to be women, and most women today work outside the home. Juggling family, caregiving activities and work takes its toll, adding to the stress and burnout these caregivers may experience. According to Nancy Sherman, director of community bereavement for Hospice of the North Shore and its Center for Grief & Healing, caregivers find it difficult to take time from their lives to attend support groups and other programs. However, she adds, that's exactly what they need - a place where they can talk about their situation, share experiences and learn tips and tactics from others.
Following are a few tips to give caregivers a head start:
Learn from others. Search the libraries for books. Others have gone through this. There's no reason for you to recreate or learn from trial and error. Capitalize on their knowledge and helpful hints.
Be prepared. Talk with the others involved including your loved one, to discuss how to handle future issues. What will happen in a health crisis? What will happen if your loved one can no longer live alone? Your current arrangement may work for now, but what will change in the future?
Be honest. What are your limits as a caregiver? Can family, friends or community services fill those voids? If not, what other options are available?
Be well. What interests and hobbies are important to you? How can you maintain them? In what ways can you bring laughter and joy into your life and your loved one's life?
Know how to ask for help. Make a list of some of the daily activities you do for your loved one. Now make a list of the things you do for yourself and your family. Put a star next to those items that could be done by someone else. When someone offers to help, pick one of those starred items: Pick up groceries, drop off the kids a music lessons, go to the dry cleaners. The key is to be specific in what you ask for. and you just may be amazed at what you get in return. People want to help, they often just don't know what to do. Give them specifics.
Make time for yourself. One woman whose mother had hospice care shared what she remembered most: "The home health aide came and made me leave the house. I'd walk down the street to the beach and just watch the waves along the shore. I was always reluctant to go but so refreshed when I returned. That 45 minutes to myself once a week made such a difference."
Create a climate of communication. Communicate your willingness to listen and share with your loved one. "If you want to talk about this uncomfortable issue, I'm willing to do it." Leave the timing up to him. Allow your loved one to control the time, place and scope of the discussion. Just be ready.
Be forgiving of yourself. It's natural to be angry, to feel overwhelmed and frustrated when your life has been turned inside out. What is important is what you do with those feelings. The best way to deal with them is to recognize them and find ways to express them safely. Get away from the situation by taking a walk. Beat a pillow. Yell out loud in the car when you're alone. Talk to someone who will listen. Most importantly, forgive yourself for feeling angry, overwhelmed and frustrated. Find and connect with others who face similar situations. Together you can sort out your emotions and share your experiences. Don't expect to be perfect.
Surround yourself with small rewards. Little things such as a joke book, a glass of wine, a vase of fresh flowers are small indulgences that can refresh your spirit.
Recognize the loss you'll feel. Many caregivers are surprised to discover the grief and loss they feel from the caregiving situation. They feel and grieve the loss of the previous relationship they had with their loved ones
Get papers in order. There are several documents you should have, including a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy. In addition, understand your loved one's financial affairs, and identify physicians and medications.
Reprinted with permission from the Hospice of the North Shore (Massachusetts), ©2002.
The Hospice may be reached at 978-774-7566 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.