Caring for Caregivers

Northwestern Medicine
For Caregivers November 12, 2012
In America, more than 65 million people provide care to loved ones who are chronically ill or incapacitated. Unpaid family caregivers represent 90 percent of the long-term care provided in the United States. With longer life expectancies and advancements in medicine, the number of people in caregiver roles will continue to grow. Caregivers are a very important part of a healthcare team, but they may also face stress and personal challenges that come with caring for a loved one. Most are faced not only with the responsibility of caring for their loved one, but many also work fulltime jobs and have other family responsibilities. Stress from caring for a loved one can manifest in a number of ways ranging from financial burden, exhaustion, household disruption, social isolation, and even personal health crises.

As a caregiver, you should understand and prioritize your needs using the following categories as guidelines: stress management; time management; decision management; health management; community resources; and emotional support and support groups. Needs will vary over time along these different dimensions. By categorizing and prioritizing, you’ll feel better able to address challenges as they arise rather than feeling overwhelmed.

Caregivers should also remember the following:

  • Take a break – Caregiving is a demanding job, and respite is needed to avoid burnout. Don’t hesitate to take breaks and accept help from others when offered. When help is needed, don’t be afraid to ask others to step in and lend a hand.
  • Get the facts – Taking time to learn about and understand a loved one’s illness will help a caregiver better communicate with the patient’s physician and enhance the ability to provide care.
  • Self care – Caregivers must address their own health needs by recognizing both physical illness and signs of depression and getting treatment when needed.
  • Talk it out – Caring for a family member may stir up a wide range of emotions, ranging from sadness to guilt to anger to frustration; speaking with a therapist or counselor may be beneficial for caregivers.
  • Seek support from other caregivers – Find a support group or an online community of people who are faced with the same challenges.

Always remember that you are not alone and help is available – support groups, online communities and a vast array of resources exist to help people cope with the stress of caring for a loved one. For caregiver resources, visit the National Family Caregivers Association website.

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Breslow leads a support group for caregivers of people with Parkinson’s disease. Each month the group comes together to discuss different challenges they face and offer support and tips to one another. For information on Northwestern’s Parkinson’s caregiver support group, call 312.503.4397 or visit the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center online.

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