Who are caregivers? They may be anyone, whether family member or paid help, who cares for the aged, chronically ill, and/or infirm. For the individual (son or daughter, wife or husband, sister or brother, friend or neighbor) who takes on the caregiver role, the service may well prove rewarding and positive. But caregiving requires time, patience, and a certain amount of training and skill to provide the best care. The need for caregivers is certain to increase as our society ages, and statistics show that the majority of caregivers are not professionals, but unpaid family members and friends.
Caregivers may work full or part-time. They may start gradually or be called to the role suddenly. They may be older adults with their own health issues, or younger family members or friends who must juggle home, family, and career, all while serving as a caregiver.
The duties each performs can range from simply buying groceries or preparing daily meals to making medical appointments and discussing what would be optimal care with the patient’s doctor. Family members may never have anticipated such challenges, and most likely are not trained for the caregiver role.
Understanding the Duties
For newcomers to the caregiving role, self-education is essential. This entails discussing the patient’s situation with the doctor. Understanding any illnesses or disabilities is a positive first step and an effective way to perform well and to minimize anxiety.
Perhaps the most important first step is to learn as much as possible about the health status of the family member and the upcoming caregiving role. For example, if the patient has dementia or is developing Parkinson’s, caregiving may be a full-time situation. Otherwise, the hours for care may vary depending on the patient’s needs, but time demands could change without much warning.
If the appointed caregiver is not a professional in the healthcare field, he or she should look for local support and information services to carry out the new role successfully. (We have listed many Internet resources in our article on Resources for Family Caregivers, which gives the caretaker a jumpstart on support groups, which include online support options such as forums, blogs, and chat rooms.) Speaking with other caregivers or aides in the healthcare field can provide valuable information, comfort and assurances that someone else knows what you are going through.
It’s also important to understand other aspects of this new situation. Does the patient live nearby, or will the care require driving time? If the patient lives outside of an urban area, are hospitals or emergency care centers readily available? Does the family member come from a different cultural background with traditions that call for a special approach to care, such as those cultures that expect women to assume the caregiving role?
Above all, caregivers need to know their limits and to care for their own health and emotional needs. If not, they may not be able to provide the needed comfort and assistance.
Taking Care of Self
Because the challenges and work involved in caregiving can be taxing, caregivers must learn ways to take care of their own emotional and physical needs. Remember the standard airline safety instruction with regard to oxygen masks? Yes! Put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting another. Here are some self-care tips to keep in mind:
- Alleviate stress by identifying its sources, pacing oneself, and setting aside quiet time to pray or meditate.
- Seek advice from friends or counselors when feeling depressed or anxious.
- Maintain regular contact with friends and family members.
- Socialize whenever possible.
- Make time for exercising to boost energy.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Eat a proper diet.
- Schedule ample time for sleep.