Providing Support to Caregivers

Northwestern Medicine
For Caregivers December 13, 2011

There are 65 million Americans who provide care to loved ones who are chronically ill or incapacitated. With longer life expectancies and advancements in medicine, the number of people in caregiver roles will continue to increase. Currently, unpaid family caregivers represent 90 percent of the long-term care provided in the United States.  Caregivers 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 caregiving can manifest in a number of ways ranging from financial burden, exhaustion, household disruption and even personal health crises.

Diane Breslow, MSW, LCSW, coordinator and social worker for Northwestern’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder, hosts a monthly support group for caregivers of Parkinson’s patients.

“Parkinson’s is a chronic disease that impacts the whole family,” explained Breslow. “The demands on the care partner continue over time and increase as the disease progresses. Depression and stress are realities for people in this situation, so it’s very important for caregivers to recognize their own unique reactions and to seek support and guidance accordingly.”

Breslow recommends caregivers understand and prioritize their needs, using the following categories as guidelines: stress management; time management; decision management; health management; community resources; and emotional support and support groups. Caregivers’ needs will vary over time along these different dimensions. Breslow also offers the following tips for family caregivers:

  • Take a break: Caregiving is a demanding job, and often respite is needed; don’t hesitate to take breaks and accept help from others when offered. Also, consider what you need with, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • Learn about your loved one’s condition: Understanding the illness will help you better communicate with your loved one’s physician and enhance your ability to provide care
  • Take care of yourself: Recognize when you’re physically ill or exhibiting signs of depression; seek help when it’s needed.
  • Talk about your feelings: Caregiving can 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 
  • Seek support from other caregivers: Find a support group or an online community of people who are faced with the same challenges. Remember, you are not alone.

The Alberto Culver Health Learning Center Galter Pavilion offers resources for caregivers. To learn more, call 312.926.5465 or email For information on the Parkinson’s caregiver support group, call 312.503.4397.

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