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Why caregivers need care: Five ways to help

POSTED: May 28, 2014 6:00 a.m.

More than 65 million Americans serve as caregivers for loved ones. They perform numerous tasks: meal preparation, transportation, help with medications, child care, household maintenance and legal and medical assistance. This unpaid job can be just a few hours a week, or be a full time commitment. According to USA Today, One in five caregivers provides more than 40 hours a week in care.
Cheryl Dalton, volunteer coordinator with First Choice Home Health and Hospice of Utah says that "caregivers in the U.S. provide billions of dollars in value annually with their care giving duties. If those duties were to be paid for by government entities, the costs would be huge. As a society, we need to support caregivers with respite...it is the right thing to do, but also a cost effective way of caring for the elderly." A 2011 survey from AARP estimates that the economic value of caregiving is $450 billion annually, according to Family Caregiver Alliance.
Caregivers are important, not only to the economy but to their loved ones. What is the best way for these caregivers to receive care?
1. Set limits
There is support for caregivers out there, but much of the help comes internally – knowing what you can and cannot do. Although it can be difficult, you must set limits. AARP surveys show that more than half of caregivers feel very stressed. This stress can not only affect the caregiver's health but the quality of care given.
Decide how much you can help, and stick to it. Choose what you will do, or what hours you will be there and be firm. Do your best not to feel guilt about setting these limits as it is best for everyone.
2. Get help from family and friends
When caring for aging or disabled family members, ask for help from other family members. Even if some family members live far away, they can help in other ways: providing financial help, handling communication, bills and other items virtually, or just being an emotional support to you.
Talk amongst siblings or friends to develop a caregiving plan. Don't let the burden fall to just one person, or resentment will brew. Distribute the workload and the burden is lighter for everyone.
3. Get help from community services
There are many community services and nonprofits to help with caregiving. One help is hospice care. Hospice care can be covered through Medicaid and other insurance. When people think of hospice, they often believe it's just for those who are dying. But hospice can also offer services to caregivers of hospice patients. Hospice volunteers can help with household duties, shopping or can be someone to talk to when caregivers are grieving.
Government services help caregivers, and Aging and Adult Services offers support groups for caregivers. There are many other resources for caregivers of seniors looking for help, as well as parents of children with special needs.
4. Stay well
The AARP reports that 17 percent of caregivers report negative effects to their health, with women reporting increased ill effects due to more women being caregivers. Caregivers are also more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.
If you are not well, you cannot effectively take care of someone else. Sickness is both physical and mental. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 40-70 percent of caregivers suffer some degree of depression because of the demands of caregiving.
If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, or being irritable or exhausted most of the time, you may be suffering from depression. Talk to a doctor if you have any symptoms of depression, and take time to schedule regular checkups.
5. Take a time out
If you find yourself stressed, depressed or tired, take a time out. Don't isolate yourself: Join a support group, go out with friends or talk with a loved one about how you are feeling. They can provide encouragement, advice and respite from the day-to-day responsibilities.
Plan a regular time out where you do something just for yourself. It can be as simple as reading a book or going to a movie. Consider a time out for yourself just as important as caregiving.
Caregivers do a vitally important task in society – one that is not always appreciated or accomodated. While there are services available, you need to take advantage of them. Remember that often the person who needs the most care, is you.
For more help on handling the stress of caregiving, visit the AARP website.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead can be reached at rogerswhitehead@gmail.com.

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