Northwestern Medicine

Providing Support to Caregivers

Northwestern Memorial Hospital November 11, 2012

More than 65 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for loved ones

CHICAGO, IL – 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.
“Caregivers are faced not only with the responsibility of caring for their loved one, but many also work full-time jobs and have other family responsibilities,” said Diane Breslow, MSW, LCSW, coordinator and social worker for Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder. “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.”
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.
“Parkinson’s is a chronic disease that impacts the whole family; the demands on the care partner continue over time and increase as the disease progresses,” explained Breslow. “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,” explained Breslow. “By categorizing and prioritizing, you’ll feel better able to address challenges as they arise rather than feeling overwhelmed.”
She also offers the following tips for family caregivers: 
  • 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,” said Breslow. For resources, she recommends visiting National Family Caregivers Association. To learn more about the Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s caregiver support group, call 312.503.4397.
The Northwestern Medicine Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center is the only National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) Center of Excellence in Illinois. The center provides innovative, multidisciplinary care, while also conducting research to extend knowledge and treatment of movement disorders. There is an emphasis on education and support for patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers and the community. 

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.

Media Contact

Megan McCann
Manager, Media Relations
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern Memorial Hospital 312.926.5900