Rosalyn Carter, wife of former President Jimmy Carter, once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
Caregiving, if planned for can be very rewarding. However, so few of us plan. Your role as a caregiver just happens. You’re living a great life, so is your spouse or parent, then in an instant life changes for both you and your loved one. He or she needs your help.
There’s been an accident, or a life-changing disease has just been diagnosed. There’s been surgery, or your loved one can no longer manage living alone.
I have been a family caregiver starting when I was 38 and continuing on and off until I was 57. First I cared for my Mom. She had cancer, and had dealt with it for around 13 years. Then it spread throughout her body and into her liver. She needed help. There I was, happy to help and naïve about what it entailed. She lasted almost a year with my 24/7 hours of help.
Next my Dad, who had congestive heart failure, lost vision in one eye and the other eye’s quality was also greatly diminishing. I cared for my Dad for over 6 years.
Finally my friend had Parkinson’s disease. I cared for her about a year in her final stages.
While caregiving can be a fulfilling role for many family members or friends, the responsibilities can become overwhelming, especially when caregivers are shouldering the entire job themselves. Almost three-quarters of family caregivers report that they don’t go to the doctor as much as they should, and between 40 and 70 percent have reported significant symptoms of depression.
I can attest to stress. Depending upon the situation I did not get enough sleep. At times I didn’t have time to exercise or eat properly. I began to feel isolated from my friends and at the same time I yearned for my own personal time and space. While caring for my friend, because of my own fatigue, I fell down the stairs and seriously injured my rotator cuff. The injured shoulder remained undiagnosed until my friend died. Then I needed emergency surgery.
What can you do to prevent these statistics from happening to you? Call in the reserves before you wear yourself down. In reality it can be difficult for caregivers who feel guilty passing off certain responsibilities or who don’t want to burden other people.
However, respite care plays a large role, allowing you, the family caregiver, to maintain your own health so you can continue to provide care to your loved one and enjoy the experience on both a health and emotional level.
First you look toward friends and family members. Make a list of things that need to be done. Whether this is keeping the loved one company or mowing the lawn, you should itemize the tasks that you do each day or week. This way, you can easily assign tasks that match a helper’s skills, or you can let them choose their own. If you would like help from someone who is less than willing to give it, you should think carefully about your request. Think of tasks that this person would be more likely to say “yes” to – if your sister loves to cook, she may be more likely to help out with meals for your mom. At the same time, if your brother hates driving, he will be more likely to say no if you ask him for help transporting your loved one. It might also help to make a list of the people you know you can count on to help you. Write down names, phone numbers and email addresses and keep them in a central location. Add support groups, church organizations or other home care agencies that you may be able to use for support. For those who don’t have the resources within their family and friends networks, or who simply don’t feel comfortable asking for help from loved ones, home care agencies are the best option. Loving Health Care, Inc. offers a variety of services that can be of help to caregivers, from medical care to homemaking services. Help is available – all you have to do is ask.