November 3, 2009
Considering Family Caregiving? Here’s What You Need to Know
By Dr. William Schiff, Clinical Psychologist
Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—Caring for a loved one with health needs is perhaps one of the noblest things family members can do for one another. Yet family caregiving shouldn’t be entered into lightly. Careful planning and consideration helps ensure that both the caregiver and the family member not only survive but thrive in this new relationship.
Step One: Think about what becoming a family caregiver will mean to you, your family and your loved one. Then think some more.
Before jumping in with both feet, it’s important to first ask yourself a number of questions. How will becoming a family caregiver impact your life? Are you ready for the stress and pressure of caring for an elderly or disabled relative? How will you organize your time and resources to care for this family member? Are you financially able to support this relative?
Second, ask similar questions of your loved one and of your other family members. What do they want? Would they be willing to help with resources of time or money? Is someone else interested in assuming the caretaker role? Would the relative in question prefer other options?
Open communication is important at this stage. Lay it all out on the table. The goal is to ensure that your family member has the best solution for his or her health care needs and that you as the caregiver are mentally, physically and financially able to assume their care.
Depending on your situation, it may be worthwhile for your family to consult a lawyer at this stage. For example, if your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, your family may want to discuss power of attorney and living wills. In addition, the advice of a financial expert may be helpful as your family determines how this will work financially.
In addition, with the consent of your family member, make an appointment to talk to his or her doctor and find out more about any medical issues. Before you take on this responsibility, you need to fully understand your loved one’s medical problems, the course the disease will take and the prognosis.
Step Two: Identify support services and other resources for both yourself and your loved one.
Just because you assume the role of the family caregiver doesn’t mean you have to go it alone or that you should forget about your own needs.
Start with your own family. If other members live close by, check early on if they are willing to help, perhaps even schedule certain days for them to spend time with your loved one. Resources may also be available in your community, such as adult day care programs, senior agencies and church-based programs, which can not only give you a break but also ensure that your loved one has valuable social time outside the family circle.
Studies have shown that being a family caregiver can raise your stress levels and put you at higher risk for illness. Along with enlisting the help of other family members and community support, maintain your mental and physical health by ensuring that you get adequate sleep, exercise and eat a proper diet. Get regular physicals, and be aware of signs of depression, such as tiredness, appetite loss or weight gain, loss of interest, aches and pains, and feelings of emptiness or helplessness. Remember to keep your own identity apart from being a family caregiver by taking vacations and maintaining social connections.
A caregivers’ support group, if available, is also a helpful and healthy venue in which to share frustrations, questions and solutions. If not, journaling is another option. Writing down your questions, expectations and future plans can be an effective way to vent and organize.
Step Three: Remember to have fun.
You don’t want taking care of a loved one to feel like a full-time job, one where you never get a break, the hours are lousy, and the pay is next to nothing. So make a point to have fun! Remember that this is someone you really care about, not just someone you’re caring for. Find or revisit activities you both enjoy, whether it’s bonding over a TV show, having a spa day or watching a baseball game. No matter what the activity is, it’s important to maintain that level of fun and enjoyment in your relationship, focus on the positive, and avoid resentment and blame.
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 50 million people are caring for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member. If you decide to join that number, keep these three steps in mind. They can help you make a successful transition that will benefit your entire family.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
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