“Caregiving is universal. There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter
More and more seniors are providing care for a loved one. Caregiving has positive rewards of accomplishment, spiritual growth, and satisfaction in providing excellent care to someone we care about. Caregiving also has physical and psychological challenges and stress. More attention is being paid by researchers, medical workers, and clinicians to the psychological and physical toll that caregiving takes on seniors.
There are differences in caregiver responsibility and time commitment. Temporary disability of the care receiver from a surgery, injury, or illness may only require weeks or months of caregiving duties. The caregiver understands that health and function of the loved one will eventually return and the duties of caregiving will lessen. This provides a psychological “light at the end of the tunnel” effect and gives hope to the caregiver that normalcy in their lives will return and responsibilities will soon end.
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Conversely, for those caring for someone with a progressive disability such as dementia, or a chronic health condition, the realization that the responsibility will increase over time and potentially become more than they can manage can be overwhelming and daunting. When caregivers are in the midst of caregiving, their own needs often become secondary to the care receiver’s needs or even totally pushed aside. Many caregivers of frail, chronically ill loved ones find themselves overwhelmed, tired, and stressed despite their devotion to the care receiver.
With either scenario in mind, it is increasingly evident that caregivers must learn to take care of their own physical and psychological health in order to continue to fulfill their commitment to caretaking, and to ensure their own health for the future. We are learning that scheduled time away from caregiving duties is essential for the wellbeing of the caregiver. Taking time out daily for as little as 30 minutes of relaxation can make a difference in levels of stress and depression. Longer blocks of time that allow for time away from the demands of caregiving are even more beneficial.
Clinicians are discovering that no one can manage caregiving alone, especially for extended periods of time. Caregiving is always more successful as a family team effort. Enlisting the help of all family members and creating a schedule that all parties commit to will not only help the person receiving care, but also the primary caregiver devoting their efforts to the wellbeing of the care receiver. Home care agencies are available for hire to provide companion and aide services for care receivers so caregivers can take a break. Proper nutrition, exercise, yoga, tai chi, support groups, and individual counseling are all healthy suggestions to alleviate caregiver stress and are supported by research as helpful interventions.
If you have questions about caregiver support services in your community, contact the Social Services Department at the Wood County Committee on Aging, Inc. at (419) 353-5661.