Providing care for family or friend in need is a centuries-old act of kindness, love and loyalty. Most of us will participate in the caregiving process at some time – as the care-giver, the recipient of care, or possibly both.
As populations of recipients of care-giving grows, so have the faces of their caregivers... even the definition of “caregiver” has taken on new meanings: the San Francisco-based Family Caregiver Alliance describes caregivers as “family, friends and neighbors who stand by those they love in the face of chronic illness, disability or death”. Caregivers are a diverse group of all ages and from all walks of life – some new to caregiving, some just anticipating becoming caregivers, and others for whom providing care has become a way of life.
CARING FOR YOUR LOVED ONE...
Caregiving may be physically, as well as emotionally, demanding, and experienced caregivers may share a wealth of experience in “working smarter, not harder”...
- grab bars installed next to toilets, tubs and showers can minimize the risk of falls (and save your back a lot of strain!)
- a shower chair (or sturdy lawn chair) on a nonslip rubber mat in the tub/shower adds to safety at bath time
- use a draw sheet (a sheet folded in half, and placed under the torso of the loved one) aids in lifting/moving the person in bed
- replace buttons, zippers, snaps with Velcro® fasteners to enhance independence in dressing
- add foam padding to increase the size, improve grip of handles on toothbrushes, combs, eating utensils
- make audiotapes/CDs of favorite music, so they can listen to spirit-lifting music, reduce anxiety
- organize cupboards/drawers used by the care recipient, make lists (large print) of contents and tape to drawers and cupboards
- talk to a pharmacist about the best way to organize medications, avoid dangerous drug interactions, over- or under-medicating your loved one.
- ask your loved one’s doctor or physical therapist to recommend a stretching routine (e.g., “chair yoga”) to maintain flexibility of joints and muscles, reduce pain
- Find ways to make your loved one – and yourself! – laugh!... laughter has many proven health benefits, from relaxing tense muscles to relieving pain to boosting the immune system...
CARING FOR YOURSELF...
When you are a caregiver, finding time for positive nurturing interactions with others may seem impossible. But you owe it to yourself... without it, you may not have the mental strength to deal with all of the emotions you experience as a caregiver – the doubts, fears, sadness... even guilt and anger... Give yourself permission not to be perfect... just do the best you can!
- incorporate that give you pleasure: listening to music, gardening, hobby crafting, etc.
- eat balanced meals throughout the day; make time for exercise; and, sleep at least 7 hours each night.
- keep a journal: helps provide perspective for your thoughts and feelings, may help other caregivers with whom you share these experiences.
- arrange phone contact at regular intervals with a friend, family member, volunteer from church or senior center, to be sure “everything is all right”, run an errand or contact other family members to inform of emergencies
- draw strength from your faith and faith-based caregiving support services; your faith community can provide encouragement to feel good about your caregiving role, and may have volunteers that can also provide respite services or provide errand-running from time to time...
FINDING SUPPORT FOR THE CAREGIVER...
Many organizations assist caregivers through support groups, home visitors, respite care, transportation and other services. Call your local Area Agency on Aging, senior center, senior services organization, county infor- mation and referral service, family services or hospital social work unit for contact suggestions.
If your care recipient is a veteran, he/she may have home health care coverage, financial support, nursing home care, and adult day care benefits available. Some programs are free, while others require co-payments, depending upon the veteran’s status, income and other criteria. Fraternal organizations such as the Elks, Eagles, or Moose lodges may offer some assistance if your care recipient is a longtime dues-paying member. This help may take the form of phone check-ins, home visits, or transportation.
More than 27 million Americans are family caregivers, each providing more than 20 hours of care each week. That’s an estimated $257 billion in unpaid services annually, more than twice what is spent on nursing homes and paid home care combined!
Many community transportation services are free for your care recipient. Your local Area Agency on Aging (“AAA”) can help you locate transportation to and from adult day care, senior centers, shopping venues and doctor’s appointments.
Check with your local AAA, religious groups, senior centers, and other public or nonprofit organizations to see whether they offer adult day care or prescheduled phone calls, to reduce your loved one’s isolation and monitor their well-being.
Join a support group: you’ll not only get help, but you’ll be able to help others, and – most importantly – you’ll find out that you’re not alone!
Originally compiled by by Marla Lichtsinn, RN, MPA, FCN
Reprinted with Permission