A caregiver’s basic guide

Published 10:00 pm Monday, April 10, 2017

No one plans to be a caregiver for a spouse or family member, but one day a loved one has a major stroke or due to ongoing debilitation from Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease can no longer be alone at home and is immediately in need of long term care.  What now, and how do I cope?

A devastating health problem resulting in the need for long-term caregiving, often falls to a spouse or family member, but really should involve the entire family. Depending on the level of care required by the patient, families can often rely upon relatives and friends to pitch in and help with shopping, driving, spending time and providing respite for the primary provider of the patient’s care. 

However, if or when the level of care required exceeds the capabilities and time available of the spouse or family caregiver, the use of paid professionals has to be considered, and that costs money, possibly a great deal of money depending on the level of assistance needed for the patient.

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You can be sure of one thing, being a family caregiver impacts your life. A typical pattern for many family caregivers is to slowly, over time, become consumed by the demands of caring for a loved one to the point of ignoring their own health, need for sleep, socialization and personal time. This pattern results in what I refer to as the “superwoman complex.”

While many men are caregivers, the majority of family caregivers are wives or daughters, and the shocking fact is that about 50 percent of full time family caregivers predecease the patient for whom they are caring as a result of the stress and impact on their health. 

Almost 75 percent of family caregivers in these long-term situations report a decline in their own health, and for some the strain of caregiving can show up as a serious problem such as high blood pressure, depression and even cancer.

Here are four steps that caregivers can consider doing to lessen the impact of their difficult role.  These are all part of taking care of yourself which will help you avoid becoming overly stressed, depressed or burned out.

1. Make free time for respite to avoid burn out. Take time to decompress away from your situational stress.

2. Seek family support to give you both the occasional break during the day or week as well as people you can talk with and rely upon because there will be some very tough days ahead.

3. If there is a local support group, join it. It’s an opportunity to share your burden with other family caregivers, and most groups encourage an exchange of ideas and techniques to help you face certain behaviors that may occur.

4. One of the most important benefits of support groups besides the socialization aspect is that they help you cope and better understand that you’re not in this “boat” by yourself. It’s often a wonderful opportunity to share, learn and teach from your own experiences in a very safe environment.

It’s also important to consider your options and plans for a situation in the earliest stages of the problem. Look into all your options, and discuss your concerns as a potential care recipient with your adult children as soon as a problem such as Alzheimer’s disease appears on the horizon.  Because family and adult children are often the potential caregivers, it’s important to talk with them before a caregiving challenge becomes a real time problem. There’s much more you can do, but this is a good start.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com. He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at drron561@gmail.com.