Caring for the caregiver
Chances are, it’s a role we will all take on at some point in our lives and can be a thankless job at times. Family caregivers manage health emergencies, juggle priorities, and suffer isolation – and all that was before COVID. The pandemic brought even more challenges as family caregivers try to fulfill their responsibilities for those they look after as well as their own family and themselves.
This November is National Family Caregivers Month and Community Care Services is sharing tools to help caregivers of children, elderly, and chronically ill strengthen relationships with their loved ones through materials that educate and empower. If you are a caregiver, with the right tools and perspectives you can work together with your loved one as a team to accomplish goals, find a treatment plan that works, and be prepared in the event of a crisis.
Even before the pandemic, the number of caregivers in the U.S. was on the rise. A May report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that an estimated 53 million people serve as caregivers, up from 43.5 million in 2015. As the baby-boomer generation continues to age, it is likely that younger people will take on caregiver responsibilities. Millennials (people born between 1980 and 1996) comprise 24 percent of family caregivers.
Caregivers for individuals with mental illnesses can be especially complicated and challenging. Often, they are cared for by family members or close friends. It’s important for people with mental illnesses to have a voice and be involved in their own treatment plan. And as a caregiver, it is vital to work with your loved one to determine what they want and need – and make sure they are included in any decisions being made.
Having and maintaining a care plan will help you balance both your life and that of the person you are providing care. The plan should include information about health conditions, medications, healthcare providers, emergency contacts and caregiver resources.
With many programs closed or with reduced services due to the pandemic, at-home care may be the only solution. The non-stop juggling between career, family and caregiving duties, results in a consuming pace the pace that can take a toll.
It’s not surprising then that caregivers that caregiving often results in chronic stress, which comprises caregiver’s physical and psychological health. Depression is one of the common negative effects of caregiving. Forty to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression.
Regardless of the sense of reward caregiving can provide, it’s important to practice self-care and be sure to have breaks from caregiving responsibilities. Respite care allows the caregiver some time off from their caregiving responsibilities. Research shows that even a few hours of respite a week can improve a caregiver’s well-being. Respite care may be provided by family, friends, a nonprofit group, or a government agency and some of these services may be free or low-cost.
Caregiver Action Network offers these tips for caregivers
• Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone.
• Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
• Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
• Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
• Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
• Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
• Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is.
Resources such as the Caregiver Action Network and CaringBridge can be valuable for caregivers to offer connection and support.
Community Care Services wants everyone to know that when we take the time to invest in our mental health, we can
focus on creating an inclusive world for caregivers and those with mental illness to thrive, together.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.