Though those numbers might come as a surprise, they should also provide both a source of comfort and concern. What’s comforting about those numbers is that caregivers know they’re not alone -- that there are many people who share similar responsibilities. That’s especially valuable because of the often isolating and depressing nature of being the sole provider of care for a sick or incapacitated loved one.
However, where those figures are disconcerting is the possibly negative effects that caregiving can have on a caregiver’s health. In a 2004 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, persons who provided the most intense caregiving reported substantially poorer health than caregivers whose responsibilities were less intense. What that study indicates is that the most intense caregivers are putting themselves at a great risk for their own failing health.
That reality heightens the need for primary caregivers to look out for themselves as well. The National Family Caregivers Association, an advocacy group for caregivers across the country, offers these tips for family caregivers, be they primary caregivers or those just moderately involved in caring for a sick or incapacitated loved one.
• Beware of the signs of depression. Simply being around a sick loved one can be cause enough for feelings of depression. Being the primary caregiver for such a person only increases the risk. Caregivers should be on the lookout for the warning signs of depression, and don’t delay seeing a professional for help. To learn more about depression, visit www.depression.com.
• Accept help. It’s important for caregivers to accept help whenever it’s offered, even if it’s something simple like having a friend bring over dinner or watch a loved one so you can enjoy a night out on the town. It’s important that a caregiver maintain a personal life and interests beyond caregiving.
• Educate yourself. Part of the depression caregivers can feel stems from the feelings of helplessness many feel with respect to their loved one’s condition. Educate yourself as best as possible about your loved one’s condition. This will help you communicate more effectively with doctors and that knowledge can be a valuable tool in your caregiving as well.
• Seek out other caregivers. As much as they might try, few people in your inner circle can probably understand what you’re going through as the primary caregiver. Unless others have gone through it themselves, it can be difficult to relate. Other caregivers, however, can be of great assistance and a great source of support. Ask your loved one’s physician to recommend support groups, be they in person or online.
• Be open to new things. Technology has advanced steadily in the last half century, and caregiving is no exception. Many advancements have been made that promote a greater sense of independence among the sick or incapacitated. Caregivers should embrace technology that improves the quality of life of both the caregiver and the person receiving the care. Ask a physician to keep you posted on any advancements that can do just that, and don’t feel guilty about doing so.
To learn more about caregiving, visit the National Family Caregivers Association Web site at www.nfcacares.org.