Chances are pretty good that you know someone who is a family caregiver. According to the AARP, in 2020, more than one in five Americans were providing care to someone with an illness or special need.
Family caregiving is usually an unpaid position, done out of love or necessity. In addition to attending to the needs of a loved one, many caregivers still hold down a job while maintaining their own households. They may have financial or personal health issues to deal with, adding to an already difficult situation. The “job” of a caregiver can be frustrating, costly, and stressful–so what can be done to help?
Jackie McCulloch cares for her mother in her mother’s home due to numerous medical issues, including blindness, which requires around-the-clock care. Jackie has a brother who helps out, relieving her on Friday evenings through Saturday afternoons. However, his work obligations sometimes interfere with their caregiving schedule, which means Jackie may not get a break for two weeks. When she does get that break, she goes back to her own home. Jackie does receive help from Hosparus, an organization that provides hospice or palliative care to patients in their own home, but sometimes even that can be difficult because Jackie’s mother is particular about who comes into her home. Fortunately, there is one particular nurse that Jackie’s mother really likes and she is happy to see her on a regular basis. The connection her mother shares with this nurse is a comfort to Jackie, and to her mother.
Terry Patterson cares for her fiance, Ron Warner, who has coronary heart disease. His medical history includes open heart surgery in 2004, 10 stents, a pacemaker, and diabetes. He also has ministrokes and neuropathy. “The hardest thing is watching him go through this,” says Terry. Last year, the doctor told Ron there wasn’t anything else they could do. “I told Ron I would be here for him, and if he wants to be at home, I’m not going to put him in some hospital; this is where he’s going to stay.”
Terry and Ron then decided to get help from Hosparus. “They’re God’s angels,” Terry says. Various professionals visit Ron at home through Hosparus: a nurse, a social worker, a chaplain, and a doctor. Terry continues, “All I have to do is pick up the phone and call them. Whatever nurse is on call will be here. It gives you a sense of relief because you know you’re not by yourself.”
Early one morning Terry called Ron’s nurse, Tammy, because he had been sick with chest pains and anxiety. “She told him to take some deep breaths and told me to put a little fan right there beside him and let the air just blow across him and that would help him calm down,” says Terry. “When he got off the phone, I set up the fan and he calmed down and went to sleep.”
Caregiver Coping Tips
Caring for a parent or loved one at the end of life is not an easy task. It can bring a unique set of problems to the caregiver. According to Amedisys, a provider of aging-in-place home health care, some problematic symptoms may include: despair, loneliness, guilt, regret, anger, sadness, fatigue, weight loss, and insomnia. Amedisys offers these tips for dealing with caregiver related issues.
- Don’t suppress your feelings. Accept and express them
- Maintain a strong support network and don’t be afraid to reach out.
- Consider joining a hospice support group.
- Consider caregiver counseling to get professional advice on dealing with your feelings.
- Spend quality time with your loved one, reminiscing, looking through old photos, listening to music, reading aloud, and don’t forget the importance of touch. Give a massage to reduce pain or stiffness.
- Make time for yourself.
- Stay organized.
- Share caregiver responsibilities with family and friends.
- Recognize and prepare for grief symptoms that may occur even before a loss or death.
National Association for Home Care & Hospice
By Cheryl Stuck | Photo by Matthew Pla