The cycle of life is most poignant when faced with the challenge of caring for an ill or frail loved one. While there are few things in life that are more rewarding than being a caregiver, the role can be overwhelming. According to recent estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 65 million Americans provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged relative or friend each year. And, the majority of caregivers are women. Many also juggle the daily stresses and responsibilities of a full-time job and children.
Caregivers often fall into their role unexpectedly following a loved one’s hospital stay and face a learning curve as they become involved in the daily tasks of home care. Most families don’t have the financial resources to hire private help on a long-term basis to care for a loved one. And, treatment plans can be complex and difficult to manage, even for the most capable caregiver.
In recent years, there has been a shift of delivery of care into the community and out of the hospitals. Caregivers must quickly learn skills, such as monitoring blood pressure, wound-care management and administering intravenous (IV) medicines. They also must figure out a way to balance caregiving with other aspects of their lives. This responsibility is often placed into the hands of individuals with no medical experience who are not prepared for what is suddenly expected of them. Yet, many who face these difficult circumstances are able to rise to the challenge – particularly when they are provided with resources, education and support.
“There’s an increasing burden on caregivers,” says Maria Torroella Carney, MD, chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Northwell Health. “Both healthcare and government need to place greater importance on caregiving needs in treatment plans. As a community, we should all consider how to help those who are most vulnerable, as well as those who care for these individuals.”
While it’s estimated that by 2030, approximately 5.3 million seniors will be living in nursing homes, a far greater number will remain at home, relying on family and friends as caregivers (source: National Institutes of Health). This will certainly require the development of new resources as the population continues to grow older. In the meantime, there are strategies that can help those who currently manage the challenges of caregiving.
You probably have friends or family members who have said, “Let me know if there’s something I can do to help.” Take them up on their offer. Start by creating a list of items that can be done, whether that’s helping with grocery shopping or spending time with your loved one so you can have an afternoon to yourself.
It may seem like a secondary task when you’re caring for someone else. Yet, your self-care is vital for a caregiver. Make it a focus to exercise and eat balanced regular meals. While caregiving can certainly be a 24-hour a day job, it’s also important to obtain sufficient sleep to restore your body and mind.
Even a 15- or 20-minute break each day can be beneficial. A walk around the block or time to read a chapter of a book can be very beneficial.
There is caregiver help available through hospitals and community programs. This includes support groups, social workers, meal programs and more.
If you’re having feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger or fatigue, it’s important to seek professional help. The feelings caregivers experience can often be overwhelming. Call your doctor or a community resource for help.
Want to learn more about caregiver support? At the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call our Resource Center at (855) 850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.