Are you a caregiver? Many people in this role have never identified themselves with the title “caregiver.” You may be an adult child caring for a parent. You may be a neighbor looking out for the elderly couple living next door. You may be a spouse caring for your partner. Broadly defined, caregiver refers to any family member, partner, neighbor or friend who has a significant relationship with and/or provides assistance for an older individual or an adult with health issues.
With longer life expectancy and greater opportunity to age in place, many seniors are remaining in their homes. There are numerous benefits for the senior with an attentive caregiver involved. These benefits include things such as decreased emergency room visits and hospital readmissions, delay of nursing home placement, improved compliance with the medical plan and improved quality of life.
Perhaps you identify caregiving with tasks more “hands on” in nature, including assistance with personal care, such as bathing, dressing and grooming, meal preparation, transportation, paying bills and medication management – and rightfully so. However, assistance with locating and coordinating outside services, advocacy at medical appointments or during a hospital stay, as well as ongoing communication with providers and other family members are also important caregiving tasks that can be time consuming and stressful.
The caregiver role brings a number of challenges. First, caregivers may find themselves providing increasingly complex care, including injections, wound care, special diets and medication management. There may also be significant financial and career implications for the caregiver. With a high percentage of caregivers working full or part-time and in their peak work years, caregiving responsibilities may impact availability to work and in some cases bring retirement earlier than planned, resulting in lost income. Often times, caregivers are caring for aging parents while still raising their own family. In addition, as families find themselves increasingly geographically spread out, long distance caregiving brings extra costs as the caregiver travels back and forth to meet the needs of their loved one.
Finally, caregiving may present physical and emotional health challenges to the caregiver themselves. Many report increased stress, substance abuse, and diminished social life, higher rates of depression, anxiety and sleep problems. Increased rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are also recorded among caregivers.
There is no doubt about it, caregiving is difficult. Early identification as a caregiver is important because it allows for finding and implementing strategies that will support you in remaining healthy and strong. Here are a few items to keep in mind:
1. Identify what is important to you and your family. Set realistic expectations and adapt as needed.
2. Take care of yourself.
- See your doctor regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get plenty of rest
- Recharge with some alone time or with friends
- Be attentive to your spiritual needs
- Find humor
3. Ask for help. A simple and convenient way to let friends and family know how they can help is by setting up a care team at www.carenextion.org. This web based tool enables caregivers to organize tasks, communicate needs and share information with their confidential care team. Care teams can include family members, friends and medical professionals. CareNextion also provides resources for professional services as well as access to an experienced social worker. Supports such as respite care educational presentations, financial help for outside services, support groups and caregiver coaching are available.
Each caregiver journey is unique. As you navigate the challenges along the way, be sure to reflect on the simple gifts and rewards that come with the journey. Take time to note the great personal satisfaction that comes from caring for another and knowing their needs are being met. As your understanding of selflessness and love grows, relationships will deepen and you will have the opportunity to establish lasting memories. You will be surprised by your strength and resiliency.
Lisa Engdahl, Licensed Social Worker
Senior Community Services
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA members meet to learn, exchange information and discuss issues in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA and local senior resources, please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org