Caring for a Family Member
She scurries back into the house to spoon-feed one more before leaving for her part-time job. After wiping his hands and face, she kisses his nose, helps him into the car, buckles him in, and drives him to daycare. Hugging him, she promises, “I’ll pick you up at lunchtime, Dad.” With a vacant look in his eyes he asks, “But what about breakfast?”
Terry is one of the 54 million Americans caring for a family member. Over 40% of families who provide care for an elder have children at home under the age of eighteen. Seventy-five percent of caregivers are women. Part of the “sandwich generation,” many will spend more years caring for a parent than they will raising a child. Not only are they ministering to their parents and children, many are caring for their children’s children. From 1990-2000, the number of kids living with grandparents increased 30%.
The Personal Risks of Caregiving
Alarmingly, women who care for grandchildren have a 55% greater risk of heart disease. Caregivers of someone with a chronic illness have a 63% chance of dying early. It’s no wonder caregivers often experience troublesome feelings such as depression, resentment, worry, helplessness, exhaustion, guilt, anger, and sadness with reversal of parent-child roles. But when caregivers care for themselves, these statistics and severe emotions can be drastically reduced.
Caregiving depletes a person not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. Because 25% of the world population is caring for someone, we all know a person in a caregiving role.
12 Tips for the Caregiver
Extend compassion and empathy first.
Encourage them to care for themselves as attentively as they do another. Remind them to get regular checkups, to eat properly, exercise, and get adequate sleep.
Suggest they take time out for themselves and use relaxation or stress management techniques such as meditation, visualization, biofeedback and yoga.
Advise them to pay attention to their own feelings and emotions and to seek counseling and support groups if needed.
Help them to stay actively involved with friends and hobbies.
Assist them in finding respite care so they can regularly take time for themselves.
Subscribe them to supportive caregiving periodicals and magazines and gift them with spiritual, inspirational, encouraging books.
Help them tap into community-based and national resources for support. The Area Agency on Aging is a great place to start and www.strengthforcaring.com is an online comprehensive resource for caregivers.
Deliver a heat-and-eat meal.
Offer to sit with their loved one, even for 30 minutes, so they can take a bubble bath or a walk.
Tell them how much you admire them for all they are doing.
These small efforts to care for the caregiver create a win/win/win situation. Your relationship with the caregiver will flourish; the family member will receive care from a happier, healthier caregiver; and that caregiver will feel cared for, too—a much needed and overdue reward.
About the Author
LeAnn Thieman is coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul and a nationally acclaimed Speaker Hall of Fame, author and nurse. To learn more caregiving issues, her books or presentations see www.LeAnnThieman.com.