About 44 million Americans provide support for adult family members and friends; caregivers need support too
About 44 million Americans provide support for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses or conditions, and those caregivers need support too. There are simple ways to help care for the caregivers. If you’ve come to EMSE, you’re already a caregiver. But if you’ve come to the Elder Care resource page, it’s likely because you are also responsible, to some degree, for the care of an aging loved one.
Statistics about caregivers
You are not alone. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance®, “about 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, ‘informal’ care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses or conditions that prevent them from handling daily activities such as bathing, managing medications, or preparing meals on their own.”
Why caregivers need support
Caregivers are a vulnerable group because they expend considerable mental and physical energy, as well as time and resources, to provide essential and life-sustaining care to another human being. This can be emotionally and physically exhausting, and it can put the caregiver at risk for psychological and physical distress.
Support and self-care for the caregiver can make a significant difference in rates of burnout and, ultimately, in care outcomes for the patient as well as the caregivers themselves. Support for caregivers helps to ensure that the caregiver is able to continue providing care for their loved one in a safe, healthful, and helpful way, and support contributes to the best care for the older person. It also helps to minimize family conflicts by offering guidance in navigating and resolving family issues related to the family member’s care.
Why support is important
When you hear experts tout the importance of self-care, it may be tempting to roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, in what lifetime?” We get it. But whether you are caring for your children or aging family members or both, maintaining your own well-being is essential in terms of your ability to provide the care your loved ones deserve. Self-care is self-preservation. And, as any Solo Mom knows, self-preservation is imperative.
What you can do
There are many, many ways to care for the caregiver. To begin, here are five suggestions that may make a difference today:
- Know what’s out there. A great resource in many counties is your local Office for the Aging. A helpful way to find one near you and learn what services and resources are available in your area is through the Eldercare Locator from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging.
- Talk! Maybe your community offers a caregiver support group, or you have friends who are also providing care to an aging family member. Whether it’s a formal support program, a professional counselor, an online forum, or a trusted confidant, find a place to talk about your experiences and feelings.
- Pay attention to how you are feeling. Stressed? Angry? Depressed? Worried? Exhausted? It’s easy to push our feelings aside when there is so much on our plates. Paying attention to signs and symptoms, and seeking help when needed are key to maintaining your health and well-being during challenging times.
- Expand your network of support. Every story is different, and some caregivers are truly going it alone. But others may have opportunities to ask for help and include more people in the caregiving tasks. Take stock of who in your life and the life of the person you’re caring for may be able to help. Even a friendly visitor can take some of the burden off you from time to time. Or maybe there’s no one who can help you with your aging loved one, but there are people who can help with your kids. Delegate whenever possible. Favors can always be returned in the future.
- Know your limits. It’s more than OK to establish boundaries. For caregivers, saying no is often the hardest thing. It can be helpful to make a plan or schedule your time with your aging loved one in a structured way. This is not always possible, but it’s important to ask yourself how you can best manage your time and tasks in a way that helps you maintain some semblance of balance between your role as caregiver and all your other roles and responsibilities.
Caregivers need support! Paying attention to your needs and well-being is crucial. Expand your support network by seeking out those in your life or that of your loved one who may be able to help. Know your limits so you can maintain a balance between your role as caregiver and the other responsibilities you have in your life. Remember that self-care equals self-preservation.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Allison Gould, ESME’s Caregiving Resource Guide, is a licensed clinical social worker. For many years, her work focused on adolescents and their families. She currently provides outpatient counseling services to people aged 65 and older, as well as to their caregivers, at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, New York.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.