Part Of An Invisible Workforce
When a family member has a cognitive impairment and cannot manage his/her affairs, legal and/or financial planning is often needed. Areas of concern for family caregivers include future health care decisions, management of assets, public benefits planning and, in some cases, litigation.
candy-pillsAlthough caregiving is not new to American culture, its significance for the delivery of healthcare to our aging population is greater than ever before. Family caregivers have become the unacknowledged backbone of the nation’s long-term care system. Are you helping a loved one who is struggling with the frailties of old age or chronic illness? If so, then you are a family caregiver – one of a 65-million-member unpaid workforce in the U.S. Nearly one-third of the country’s adult population are caregivers, providing an average of 20 hours of care per week – and some around the clock.
Already, it is estimated that family caregivers provide unpaid services valued at $450 billion a year.
And although these individuals are usually untrained for the tasks they perform, family and friends now provide about 80 percent of all long-term care services in this country.
Help For Family Caregivers
Caregiving may be one of the most important roles you will take on, but it is incredibly stressful and can be very lonely and isolating. It can cause major issues with your ability to keep an appropriate balance with work and life. Making arrangements, handling financial and legal issues, and finding community resources can be time consuming, frightening, and frustrating.
Regardless of the nature of the care needed, caregivers selflessly bring comfort, social engagement, and stability to those they love, putting the wellbeing of others before their own.
Which leads to the question: Who is caring for the caregivers?
The emotional and physical effects of stress can creep up on everyone. Studies show that caregiving takes a negative physical toll on caregivers – to the extent that they often delay or forego their own routine medical care. The National Alliance for Caregiving offers the following information and tips for controlling what it terms “Chronic Caregiver Stress”:
Typical warning signs of stress include:
Reduced attention span and concentration; Reduced effectiveness at work or at home; Unusual or frequent memory lapses; Muddled thinking and information processing delays; Constant irritability, or dulled emotions; Physical aches and pains, irregular heartbeat, sweating, skin rashes and/or stomach problems; Avoiding regular activities; Sleeplessness.
If you regularly experience any of these, stress may be catching up with you, and you should seek help, or be sure to have some ways of coping with the stress of caregiving. When caregivers experience stress very intensely, or over long periods of time, they may suffer from “burnout.”
Burnout – neglecting your own needs to the point where you become so fatigued, malnourished, or emotionally overburdened that you can no longer continue caregiving – is harmful not only to yourself, but to your loved one as well.
Rosalyn Carter said it best: “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”
There are a variety of ways to provide some quick relief for stress. Sometimes just taking a deep breath or counting to ten will relieve the immediate stress you are experiencing and allow you to continue responding to a stressful situation more calmly and effectively. Mild exercise – a walk, swim, yoga – can also quickly reduce your stress level.
Sometimes, a personal affirmation, such as the famous Alcoholics Anonymous reminder “One day at a time,” is sufficient to reduce stress and remind yourself that you can make it through this day despite its difficulties and challenges.
Get someone to give you a break and take some time off for something you love to do – a movie; a long bath; reading; a visit to the salon.
If you feel that constant stress has brought you to the point of burnout, professional help may be necessary – for your sake as well as for the sake of those you love. If you suspect that caregiving is affecting your physical or mental health, see your physician or other health professional who can suggest ways to help you cope with the stress you’re experiencing.
Local caregiver support groups can also be very helpful, as well as caregiver respite programs which can relieve you of your caregiving activities for short periods of time. Whatever your method of choice for reducing stress, the most important thing to remember is that taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of those you love.
Day in and day out, more than 65 million family caregivers in this country fulfill a vital role on the care team, and no one else is in a better position to ensure continuity of care. The experiences of today’s family caregivers and the tools they are using to adapt are very important for all Americans to learn about. The issues surrounding family caregiving are of serious concern for policy makers, politicians at the federal, state and local levels, employers, insurers, and healthcare providers. It is a topic of discussion in faith communities and the subject of research in universities. Today, caregiving is much more than a personal family issue. It is the issue of our age, because sooner or later caregiving will affect every family in America.