Being There for a Caregiver: How You Can Ease the Burden
Caregivers are driven by their compassion and desire to support their loved one on his or her end-of-life journey. Motivated by concern, caregivers often neglect their own needs and forget about taking care of themselves. Over time, this neglect can take a heavy toll on overall well-being.
Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, physical and mental health problems often arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives. In fact, the stress of family caregiving has been shown to impact a person's immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves. Many caregivers are also ill-prepared for the role and provide care with little or no support, adding to their health complications.
There a number of ways a person can step into the role of caregiver. The transition to the caregiver role often occurs naturally over time. In these situations, people adapt over a long period of time because their loved one is declining very gradually, requiring more and more care. More commonly, caregivers come into their roles suddenly, as a result of a medical emergency or accident. In this situation, thrust into the role without advance knowledge or preparation, navigating complex health care systems and identifying supportive resources are especially important in developing a workable caregiving plan.
Who is the typical caregiver? During any given year, 30% of Americans, more than 75 million people care for an aging or infirmed loved one. At some point in their lives, 59% of Americans will step into the caregiving role for a chronically ill family member or elderly parents. Women typically fill this caregiving role, comprising nearly 70% of family caregivers in the United States. A lot of it has to do with gender roles but it’s also because women live longer than men do. Most commonly between the ages of 45 and 49, the majority of these hard-working female caregivers have jobs and children to care for, as well.
Caregiving comes with a cost. The time involved in performing caregiving tasks can quickly add up. On average, caregivers devote 20 hours per week to their caregiving duties, and 13 % of them provide more than 40 hours. And then there’s the financial impact. Family caregivers typically aren’t paid for their assistance and they often spend more to help their ailing loved ones. Additional financial costs that frequent befall caregivers include purchasing prescription medications, buying groceries and clothing, transportation costs for providing care and doctor’s appointments, and more.
With so much on their plates, you may be wondering how you can ease the burden on a caregiver you know and love. Here are some supportive ways you can help:
- Help take care of the small stuff. Some of the easiest ways for you to help can mean the most to an exhausted caregiver. Cleaning the kitchen, taking the dog for a walk, grocery shopping or preparing meals, and mowing the lawn are all great examples of how you can provide assistance and demonstrate your support.
- Give them a break. Offer to stay with the person receiving care a couple of times a month so the caregiver can have the day off. If you or friends and family cannot step in and take over for an afternoon or a day, suggest options for respite care, which can include in-home visits from professional health care aides, adult daycare programs or short-term nursing homes. Medicare has a respite care benefit that allows the person receiving care to be placed in a facility for up to five days, providing the caregiver a much-needed break from their responsibilities.
- Offer to conduct research on caregiver resources. Although senior-focused services are plentiful, burned-out caregivers may not have the energy or time to explore the support options available to them. And if her or she isn’t tech savvy, many local and national resources will be harder to access. A great way to lend a hand is to do some of the legwork and determine the best sources for assistance. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers an online service called FCA CareJourney that helps individuals to navigate complex care-related responsibilities. This portal provides valuable information that’s targeted to the caregiver’s specific needs and those of the person for whom they’re providing care. It also provides access to online caregiving peer support, along with useful local, state, and national resources.
- Be steadfast in your support. If you offer help on a weekly or monthly basis, be consistent. While circumstances may not allow you to make a regular commitment to supporting a caregiver, try to check in on a regular basis. Volunteer to be the caregiver’s backup in case of an emergency. Agree to be the keeper of essential information should something happen to the caregiver that renders them unable to provide care. Offer to get a spare house key made, collect contact information for doctors and neighbors, and learn where important documents are kept.
These are just a few things you can do for the caregiver in your life. Get creative! Bring him or her a favorite book or some coffee and an indulgent dessert. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of a kind word or caring gesture, no matter how simple it may be. If you need more information about how you can ease the burden on a caregiver, our compassionate funeral directors are always here to assist you. Please reach out to us anytime.
About Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services: As a leading African American-owned and operated funeral and cremation organization serving three states, Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services has provided a ministry of care to thousands of grieving families. We promise to provide our highest level of distinguished service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. In all aspects of the funeral process, we strive to be the absolute best and are honored to help preserve our clients’ legacies for future generations. For more information, please call us at 215-549-4700 or visit our website.