Let’s just say it: caregiving can be HARD! But, with support and connection to resources, it can also be very rewarding. At Council on Aging (COA), we appreciate the important role caregivers play in our long-term care system. In Ohio, more than 1 million unpaid caregivers provide more than 1.22 million hours of care each year.
Council on Aging’s Caregiver Support Nurse, Anna Goubeaux, talks about the importance of caring for the caregiver.
Why is it important that caregivers seek support? What kinds of challenges do they have? At times, caregiving can feel like a contact sport. Caregivers can experience the thrill and emotional high of helping a loved one. They often report that their relationship with their care recipient is enhanced by the experience. But they can also feel bruised, battered and emotionally drained.
Caregivers often sacrifice their own physical, emotional and financial health in the process of caring for a loved one. They may have to cut back on work hours or leave a job altogether to care for a loved one. Because they become so focused on their responsibilities, one of the most difficult challenges caregivers face is looking past the needs of their care recipient to focus on their own health and well-being. Though it may feel selfish, caregivers must learn to take care of themselves if they are going to provide the best care possible for their loved one.
One of the most important things a caregiver can do is acknowledge that they are in fact a caregiver. Many people see themselves not as a caregiver, but as a son, daughter or spouse just doing their family duty. When you acknowledge your role as a caregiver, you become more open to and seek out support and resources which will help you and your care recipient. Without this support, caregivers experience burnout, which can lead to nursing home placement for their care recipient. In fact, caregiver burnout is one of the top three reasons for nursing home placement.
While there are many challenges to being a caregiver, taking care of yourself and seeking out information and resources can help you better experience the rewards of caregiving.
COA offers a free Caregiver Support Program that provides one-on-one support for family caregivers and makes it possible to see the rewarding side of caregiving. When I meet with caregivers in this program, I help them find balance with their lives and their caregiving responsibilities. We focus on reducing stress and increasing knowledge to improve their caregiving experience. I also connect them with local resources to support them on their caregiving journey.
Do you have any advice for caregivers? First, I can’t say it enough: Take care of yourself! You cannot care for someone else if you are drained of energy and spirit. I tell caregivers that it is the same as being on a plane – if the oxygen mask comes down, you must put on your own mask before you can be of help to others.
Second: This may be difficult for some caregivers but allow others to help when they offer. No, not everyone will measure up to your exacting standards, but you have to find ways – even little ones – to let people help or you won’t last long as a caregiver. Sitting with your loved one at a specific date and time, doing laundry, picking up prescriptions or groceries, cooking or cleaning – many people can handle tasks like this, giving you, as a caregiver, valuable time for self-care and rest. Keep in mind that people will want to help but they often don’t know how. When an offer of general help comes in, respond with thanks and a specific task.
Third: If you are caring for someone with a chronic, long-term health condition such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, educate yourself about the disease process so you know what to expect as the disease progresses. Caregivers who know what to expect are better equipped to deal with changes in their loved-one’s health and their caregiving responsibilities.
Finally, caregiving can be a wonderful family experience. Allow your siblings, children, spouse and other family members to share in this caregiving experience. I helped care for my own grandmother and the experience taught me some important life lessons and gave me the opportunity to help both my grandmother and mother in their time of need. I have so many precious memories from that time in my life and would not trade them for the world.
Seek help from professional organizations such as Council on Aging to understand the long-term care options (including in-home care and caregiver support) in your area. For most caregivers, this is unchartered territory. There is help out there, but you must reach out for it.
Anna Goubeaux, RN, is a caregiver support nurse at Council on Aging. Council on Aging is the Area Agency on Aging for southwestern Ohio and administers publicly-funded programs that support caregivers and help individuals remain independent in their homes and communities. Contact Council on Aging at (513) 721-1025 or www.help4seniors.org.