For some it’s a burden where they feel trapped and resentful, for others it’s a privilege to help and give something back. Between these extremes I suspect most of the 65 million caregivers just get on with things. A few will have a fantastic support network - many will not. Caregiver stress is something of a hidden issue yet it affects people of all ages, genders, cultures and backgrounds.
Caring for a sick or dependent person has always been viewed as something relatives do. This may be true, but even if a proportion of caregiving stopped right now our health services simply couldn’t cope. Caregivers are quite simply essential, yet it isn’t always clear what services are available to support the caregiver or what actions they can take to support themselves.
Caregiving varies dramatically and most people are able to manage a few weeks or even months without too much difficulty. Giving care to someone who is chronically ill, perhaps for years, is a different matter. The difficulties become even more marked when caregivers themselves are elderly and perhaps not in the best of health.
The issues that cause caregiver stress are as varied as the situations they find themselves in. The needs of a person requiring care can change radically over time, so any solutions have to be tailored to circumstances. In general, however, some of the main issues known to influence caregiver stress include financial pressures, isolation, the physical and emotional demands of care and guilt. Guilt may stem from feelings of being under-skilled or under-resourced to give proper care. It may result from moments of frustration and anger when things are said or done. It may even arise when caregivers get a little personal time only to find they can’t enjoy it, or they feel they’ve enjoyed it too much.
We all accept that caregiving isn’t easy, but sometimes it can become overwhelming. To prevent such times it is important for the caregiver to consider their role in a more strategic fashion. There’s nothing tacky or underhand about thinking in such terms and there are benefits for the caregiver as much as the person they care for.
The National Family Caregiver Association suggests making a detailed list of tasks and responsibilities and deciding which of these could be done by another person, even if this doesn’t involve direct care. It may, for example, be a single task such as shifting an old bit of furniture, picking up a delivery or cooking a meal. It may be asking a volunteer for a lift, or asking for help to organize a yard sale. Get in contact with volunteer groups, local churches, youth organizations or anyone in your area. Very often a single contact will spark off a chain reaction where you are given a list of contacts that can help. Many people are happy to volunteer their services either as a one-off or more regularly.
Finally, why not think about joining a support group of caregivers? Whether you are new to being a caregiver or you’ve been doing it for a while there is a lot to be said for communicating with others. People in the groups can share ideas, offer tips and advice, share items of equipment and pool resources. If there isn’t a group in the area, think about setting one up yourself. It may feel like yet another task but a new project has its own advantages. The distraction is good, it can be done for free and once you get going the added benefits will hopefully start to reveal themselves.