Acting as a caregiver for a family member can be a rewarding experience that allows you to spend time and provide vital care for someone you love. Caregiving covers a wide range of situations from those who just need a little extra help caring for themselves to those who are undergoing things such as surgery recovery, cancer treatments and even those with terminal illness.
No matter what your role is, one important factor that is often overlooked is who takes care of the caregiver.
What is caregiving?
There are many styles of caregiving. Some families are able to get by helping their loved one on their own if the person in need isn’t suffering from a debilitating disease or condition.
For those with more serious illness, family caregivers are often working in tandem with medical professionals who oversee things such as medication, physical therapy and even hospice care.
Caregivers need care too
Caring for a loved one is a selfless act of love and devotion. It can also cause both physical and mental exhaustion for those in this role.
Studies show that both short- and long-term caregivers experience insomnia, mental distress, depression and physical exhaustion. Some have even reported that because of these factors, the care they are giving can sometimes suffer because they are not operating at full capacity mentally, physically or both.
If you are tired from lack of sleep, physically exhausted, or becoming depressed, you will not have enough gas in your tank to give your loved one the care they need. As the adage goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
What can I do to help?
If you know someone who is a caregiver for a loved one, sometimes the simple act of a phone call can make a world of difference. Let them know you are looking out for them and that you are there if they need to talk.
The caregiver themselves, may not even be aware their tank is empty. Give them a safe space to talk and even more importantly, listen. Sometimes people just need to vent their feelings and are not looking for you to solve a problem. Encourage them and offer your support.
Caregivers often think of their own wants and needs as the very last thing that needs attention. A good example of this would be an adult with a spouse and/or children who are also the caregiver of an aging parent. After caring for the parent, the next move is feeding the kids, checking in with their spouse, general upkeep of their own home, homework help or after school activities. The caregiver may even also have a career of their own. Can you now see who caring for themselves might be on the backburner?
Help for caregivers can be offering to pick up the kids from school, covering dinner for a night or two, just simple things that can give them a bit of respite.
I am a caregiver and I need help
Being a caregiver for a family member is not easy. Seeing a loved one decline or be in pain is hard enough on its own. Here are a few tips for caregivers:
- You do not have to do it all - There are many free and low-cost options or insurance programs that cover extra help. For those who also have a job, there are laws in place via the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), that provides protection for your job if you must miss work to care for a family member. Check with your HR department to file necessary paperwork to protect your job.
- Give yourself a break - While you are a superhero for being a caregiver, you do not actually possess the qualities of Superman or Wonder Woman. If you have siblings or other family members in the same area, sit down with them and talk about how you can all work together to carry out the duties.
- Nourish yourself - This means both physical and mentally. Pick an activity you love that nourishes you. From reading, watching a movie or tv show, taking a walk, enjoying time with a pet - it can be anything you want that brings you joy. Schedule this time for yourself and do not skip it. Set it in stone and stick to it unless it is a true emergency. Even if it’s just 30 minutes of “you” time, it can make a huge difference.
- Pay attention to your emotions and how you feel inside - There are no rules on how to feel as a caregiver. You likely feel every emotion possible as a caregiver. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and never judge yourself.
Need additional resources? There are a wide range of resources available, both for those aging and those taking care of the ones aging. Here are just a few:
- Georgia’s Aging & Disability Resource Connection: a coordinated system of partnering organizations that are dedicated to supporting individuals and family members who are aging or living with a disability
- Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Aging Services: Visit aging.georgia.gov for additional resources depending on your needs.
- Find a VA hospital near you at va.gov
Additional resources can be found at caringinfo.org.
If you know a caregiver, thank them for what they are doing. Encourage them. If you think they may need extra help, reach out and see how they would feel if you did a little research on some additional options.
Family caregivers are special people, and they deserve to be treated as such.