Being a caregiver for an ailing parent, spouse, child, or other loved one can feel like a lonely undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we discuss different types of help for caregivers made available by various organizations. Once you learn what’s out there to assist you, it may be easier to chart a less-demanding course toward meeting the needs of your spouse, relative, or friend.
For many individuals, the challenge of caring for a chronically ill, elderly, or disabled family member is part of life. Close to 49 million informal or family caregivers offer support to all sorts to adults in America. Their efforts are vital to the lives of people struggling with illness, disability, or the changes that accompany aging.
Caregiving can be a demanding job and one that is difficult to do alone. Fortunately, there are many services available that can relieve stress and provide short term relief, allowing you to restore energy and promote balance in your life. Remember that seeking support when you need it and maintaining your own health is key to managing your role as a caregiver. If you’re caring for others, it’s critical that you take care of yourself as well. By not doing so, you risk exhaustion, health problems and total burnout. We encourage you to make use of other services when you are feeling isolated, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
Here are some types of services and professional organizations you might want to learn more about:
- Adult day services: These programs offer comprehensive packages of assistance, though what’s in the package varies from place to place. Services may include transportation, nursing care, meals, personal care (such as help with bathing or toilet use), social opportunities, or rehabilitative activities. This may be helpful if your loved one needs supervision or assistance with daily activities, health care, or social support for physical or cognitive impairments. Typically, adult day services are open during normal business hours. Some offer evening and weekend hours as well.
- Certified nurse’s aides (CNA’s): These trained aides can help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, and personal care. Keep in mind that they are not nurses, and therefore cannot administer medications.
- Nurses: Nurses offer skilled nursing care, such as inserting intravenous lines, cleaning wounds, and changing bandages. They can also administer medications. You can schedule time for them to stop by your home and provide care.
- Hired companions and homemakers: You may want to hire someone to help with meals, shopping, and laundry. These individuals can also supervise activity and provide companionship and transportation. Some people may also be willing to help with personal care. An informal arrangement—such as a college student who lives in a home and provides help in exchange for rent—can work well.
- Home health aides: These aides perform personal services such as bathing and dressing, and may do light housekeeping.
- Physical, occupational, or speech therapists: These trained professionals may do in-home therapy sessions.
- Respite care workers. Respite care workers provide caregivers with time off from their caregiving duties.
- Transportation services: Many communities offer free or low-cost transportation to medical appointments for seniors or people who are disabled. Other potential sources of free or low-cost transportation help are religious and community organizations, including churches or synagogues, councils on aging, and senior centers.
We’d also like to share the following resources:
The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) offers a 24-hour help line (800-272-3900) and support groups throughout the country. Some of its chapters also offer training programs, assistance with coordinating care, and other services.
Another good resource is a website sponsored by the National Health Information Center: www.healthfinder.gov. It can help you locate resources in your area.
Here are a few quick tips to keep your stress level as a caregiver in check:
#1. Put your needs first. Eat nutritiously and don’t give in to quick, stress driven meal choices like sweets or alcohol. Make sure you get enough sleep and schedule regular medical check ups. Ensure that you find time during the day to exercise and if you experience symptoms of depression (trouble concentrating, hopelessness, or apathy), don’t hesitate to speak with a medical professional.
#2. Don’t miss chances to connect with friends. Getting together regularly with friends or loved ones can keep negative emotions away.
#3. Reach out for help if you need it. Make a “To Do” list and recruit others to pitch in so you can more effectively manage tasks.
#4. Deal with emotions. Bottling up your feelings takes a toll on your psyche and even your physical well-being. Share your frustrations with friends and family, and seek support from co-workers who may be experiencing a similar situation. You may also wish to join a caregiver support group.
#5. Find time to relax. Take time out to do the activities you enjoy, including walking, reading, and listening to music to recharge your batteries. Many caregivers utilize relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to visualize a positive place. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, pat yourself on the back for how much you are doing, and focus on the rewards of caring for someone you love.