Seven Ways to Ease the Burden on a Caregiver
Sometimes, being there for caregivers is the best way we can help. In the United States, an astonishing 59% of the population serves as an unpaid caregiver to a chronically ill family member or elderly parents at some point in their lives. Little can we understand the magnitude of responsibility that’s required in this all-consuming role until we’re tasked with it ourselves.
The emotional and physical strain is tremendous, complex and very real. Long term family caregiving has been shown to take a toll on the caregiver's physical and mental health. A 2016 study by MetLife revealed that chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, depression, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more common among caregivers than non-caregivers. Many caregivers experience financial pressures as well. Despite these challenges, half of caregivers in the U.S. receive no outside assistance at all, but not because it isn’t available. On the whole, caregivers are notoriously reluctant to ask for assistance, so here are seven strategies to ease the stress and lend the support they need:
1. Give them a respite. A caregiver’s calendar is usually overflowing with doctor’s appointments, scheduled mealtimes, medicine administration, and other home healthcare duties. Providing him or her with time for rest and relaxation could offer a welcome break. Because they often put their loved one’s needs before their own, help them to take some time for themselves. Maybe they have an appointment of their own or there’s a movie out they really want to see. Whatever it is, a few hours here or there can go a long way toward lessening their load and helping them feel refreshed and recharge. Make sure you know their loved one’s routines and are able to contact the caregiver in case of emergency. For some caregivers, leaving their loved one for an entire afternoon or evening may seem overwhelming. If this is the case, think of ways to add small breaks to his or her day instead. Bring boxed lunches to enjoy indoors or outdoors. You might consider packing a few extra lunches for the caregiver to enjoy over the week.
2. Assist with home upkeep. Help caregivers around their own house or their loved one’s residence. Prepare some favorite meals so they don’t have to cook. Offer to do the laundry, vacuum or shovel the walk while they go about their caregiving duties. And don’t forget the importance of a safe caregiving environment. Consider organizing friends, neighbors and community members to repair any parts of the house in need of attention.
3. Include them in social events. Invite your caregiving friend or family member out for coffee, a meal or to go shopping. For example, “Next Sunday some of us are getting together for church and lunch afterwards. I’ll arrange care for the afternoon so you can join us.” If your invitations are met with resistance, wait awhile and ask again. Even if they decline nine times in a row, on the tenth time they might say yes, so don’t give up. Caregivers need to know they’re wanted, included and not left behind by those with freer social calendars. When they’re ready to join in the fun for a bit, help find a reliable resource for care in their absence.
4. Help them get organized. Caregivers often find themselves facing a growing mountain of paperwork because there’s simply no free time to handle it. Volunteer to help sort through their paperwork or bills. Ask for advice from friends with accounting or legal experience, as appropriate. Make sure importance documents such as wills, advance directives and Powers of Attorney are in place.
5. Be a good listener. Caring for someone else usually leads to a plethora of feelings— worry, exhaustion, fear, and resentment are common. One simple way to help is to just listen. Call or text the caregiver at a time when you think her or she might be less busy. Or drop by with some coffee and doughnuts and be willing to visit for a while if you’re invited. If the caregiver begins to talk about his or her problems, be non-judgmental and focus on listening rather than offering advice.
6. Encourage their participation in a support group. Caregivers need to feel like someone understands what they’re going through and supports them along the way. No one can quite understand the road the caregiver walks like others who are on the same journey. Help your friend locate an appropriate online or in-person support group and offer to attend, as well.
7. Be alert to signs of caregiver stress. Some caregivers have a difficult time accepting help, mistakenly believing they should do everything themselves. This attitude can be harmful not only to the caregiver, but also to his or her loved one. Caregiver stress can lead to irritability, anger, burnout social isolation, anxiety, depression and numerous other problems. If your offers of help aren't accepted, be persistent in a gentle way. Remind your caregiving fried that he or she doesn't have to do this alone and of the importance of self-care.
The caregiving experience doesn’t have to be all negative. While many undesirable outcomes are associated with caregiving, some patients and caregivers consider it a life-changing time of closeness and intimacy. Many caregivers, particularly those who are adult children to the patient, report that they wouldn't change a thing if given a chance to do things differently. However, even these caregivers need support and interventions that will help them reap the rewards of caregiving and reduce their stress levels. Do you need more information about how you can ease the burden on a caregiver or help finding reliable local resources? Our knowledgeable, compassionate funeral directors are always here to assist. Please reach out to us anytime.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.