November is recognized as National Family Caregivers Month – a month to recognize and celebrate the contributions of family caregivers who unselfishly help their loved ones and add to the experience of people they care for. Their acts of commitment and compassion enable their loved ones to live a life with dignity. Millions of Americans have sacrificed jobs, changed their careers and living arrangement in order to perform caregiving duties. This month offers us an opportunity to raise awareness about caregiving issues. Caregiving is a though job and caregivers need to take care of themselves, something they often forget to do. People who recently found themselves in caregiving roles need to learn how to cope and navigate through new situation they found themselves in. The number of Americans providing unpaid care has increased in the time span of five years from 43.5 million in 2015. to 53million in 2020. which translates to every fifth American citizen providing unpaid care to an adult with health or functional needs.
Are you a caregiver?
Many people think of a caregiver as a professional who is paid to take care of another person. Alternatively, they imagine a person spending 24/7 with a bedridden parent or partner. Depending on the culture person comes from, it can get difficult to distinguish between giving back to your parents by being dutiful daughter or a son, something that is expected, and relationship becoming one of a care-taker and care-recipient. Distance also confuses people, so individuals living couple hours away from their family often do not consider themselves caregivers. At the same time, they are taking care of the person’s accounts, meds and deliveries, calling to check on them daily etc. The term caregiver actually refers to anyone who provides physical, emotional, financial or logistical support to someone with a disabling condition. So if you are a son, daughter, mother, father, spouse or a friend and you are helping a person who is older, has chronic illness or a disability or battles with dementia — you are a caregiver too. If you recently helped a loved one get dressed or take a bath, took them to a doctor’s appointment, managed their medications and prepared them meals – you might be a caregiver. If you regulary shopped for them, taken time off work to help them, change plans to be around to help a loved one or neglected your own needs or given up activities you enjoy to spend time helping a loved one – there is no doubt that you are a caregiver!
Impacts of caregiving
Caregiving can have a significant impact on the life of the caregiver in many ways. In the 2020 AARP study on Caregiving in the US, 23% of Americans said caregiving has made their health worse. Family caregivers often hold part-time or full-time job in addition to caregiving so they are often working around the clock. Caregivers also report diminished family relationships due to caregiving. Juggling many responsibilities is especially difficult for the sandwich generation of caregivers who have to take care of their aging parents and children at the same time. Even if it seems impossible, you have to take care of yourself by sleeping well, exercising and nourishing your body. If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to afriend or seek professional help. Family caregiving is more intensive, complex, and long lasting than in the past and caregivers rarely receive adequate preparation for their role.
If you are new to caregiving, uset his National Family Caregivers Month to familiarize yourself with available resources, seek sources of support and take extra care of yourself. Caregiver burnout is common and you should take all prerequisites to prevent it. Here are some things to think about:
Set realistic expectations from the start
Caregiving often leads people to lose sight of their own personal life. Don’t let your role as a caregiver takeover your entire life. It is extremely important that you have realistic expectations what you can do and to set healthy boundaries to provide a much needed balance in your life.
Be realistic about the state of mind of the person you are taking care of. You might dedicate 18 hours a day taking care of your aging parent and all you get in return is their irritability, reclusion or disinterest. Remember that on top of their health condition and chronic pain, they could be battling some mental issues affecting their mood and reasoning. If you are taking care of a person battling dementia, no matter how many activities and exercises you do with them today, tomorrow it may seem like there is no progress. Research the topic as much as you can and don’t be disappointed if you don’t see progress. Focus on making them feel safe and loved and use the time you have together the best you can.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
You don’t have to do it all alone. Call on friends and neighbors when you need a break. If you have siblings, communicate with them and get them to help. Don’t forget to be open to what others can offer besides direct care. Maybe you expect your brother to jump in during the weekends so you could get a well-deserved rest but he made plans with his kids. Don’t let resentment take the best of you and prevent you from asking him for help again. He can still run errands next week and save you much time or help financially. Caregiving community is very warm and welcoming so if you have some doubts or questions, there is a plethora of online support groups where you can get valuable advice or even vent when it becomes too much. Trust us, people there know where you are coming from.
Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. It is easy to forget about your own meals when you spend hours preparing dietary restrictive meals for your loved one. However, maintaining adequate sleep and nutrition are crucial to our well-being. Try some mind calming practices like deep breathing, yoga or meditation. Even 10 minutes per day can do wonders. Start observing yourself and soon you will recognize your signs of stress and come up with coping strategies whether it is a short walk, exercise or phone call with a friend.
Taking care of yourself emotionally is also extremely important. You are experiencing many emotions seeing your loved go through a difficult period. Some of the most common emotions caregivers go through are: grief, anxiety, dread, sadness, loneliness but also guilt, resentment and anger. It is important to remember that all of these feelings are normal but it is important to share them with someone. It can be a trusted friend, family member or a therapist. Keeping things bottled up won’t do you any good. If you need to cry – cry, if you need to grieve – go through the process the way you feel you need to.
Don’t be hard on yourself
You are doing a great job! Give yourself enough credit for the tremendous effort you have been putting in. You found yourself in a very challenging situation and just because you didn’t do something exactly the way you intended it doesn’t mean you failed. You show up every day and you are doing your best. What else could you ask from yourself?