According to the latest numbers, around 83-percent of long-term care in the U.S. is provided by unpaid family members. Although it might not affect you directly at this point, odds are someone you know is caring for an elderly or infirmed family member.
Family caregivers are saving the government and insurance companies billions of dollars every year and go largely unnoticed. Caregivers play many roles for their charges, from accountant to housekeeper and personal assistant to nurse. It’s a nonstop challenge with daily changes so there is no “normal,” particularly when caring for someone with a advancing deteriorative disease.
The term, “caregiver” usually conjures up thoughts of an adult child looking after an elderly parent, but that’s certainly not the only situation. Parents of disabled children, grandparents, or even siblings caring for an infirmed or elderly brother or sister, are all dealing with a similar situation – too much to handle and not enough help.
Caregivers often suffer from enduring fatigue, emotional stress and broad-reaching financial hardship. Over time, trying to cope with all of this can catch up with a person, causing chronic health problems. The organizers behind the website Caregiveraction.org have declared November as National Family Caregivers Month with the 2015 theme of “Respite: Care for the Caregiver.”
The organization notes that most caregivers feel that respite is a luxury and many even view it as selfish. But trying to find a way to decompress on a regular basis should be made a priority.
Juggling one home, a job and a personal life can be tough enough, but when you’re doing it for two households it can break even the most resilient of people in a hurry. The majority of caregivers pull double duty in order to handle their own homes and families while seeing to the doctor visits, medicine regimens, physical therapy, and other demands of their caregiving charge.
That constant state of stress can often lead to long-term health issues. It’s important that caregivers care for themselves also, set aside time to rest, eat right, and seek support if no other family is available to help out.
There are a number of organizations with resources available to help with respite care. Be aware, however, that generally there is no insurance or Medicare / Medicaid coverage for these services and the costs must be absorbed by the patient or caregiver.
Financial stress is one of the most prominent problems for family caregivers. Many either lose their jobs due to regular absences or have to quit in order to provide full time care. And, when the patient has limited income or other resources, the caregiver picks up the fiscal slack, spending whatever they have to ensure bills are paid.
If you know someone who has recently become a family caregiver, please keep in mind that they may have a different set of priorities than before. Depending on the situation, it is likely their life revolves now around the person for whom they provide care. They may not be able to drop everything and go shopping or out to dinner at a moment’s notice. Be patient and supportive.
Of course there are those who gives the family caregiver a bad name. Anyone who does this out of some kind of need for financial compensation or constant personal praise won’t be seen as anything but self-aggrandizing and reprehensible.
There is no glory or martyrdom in caregiving. It’s emotionally draining and physically exhausting, especially if your family member is terminally ill. The pain of watching someone whither away is like nothing imaginable without first-hand experience.
If you’re taking care of a family member, remember to take care of yourself too. You can’t do anyone else any good if you’re suffering as well. Caregiving is hard work, on any level, and it should be viewed objectively.
You wouldn’t work nonstop on a job would you? Do whatever you need to do to take a little time for yourself every day. Remember you’re doing the best you can and accept help when it’s offered.
Links to several caregiving resources are available in the online edition of this feature at deerinheadlines.com. Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer.