Caring for Caregivers

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By Kendra White

In most caregiving situations, the primary focus is on the person receiving the care. That is understandable, but it often means that specific challenges related to caregiving are overlooked or considered secondary issues.

It is important to understand that caregivers face a unique set of challenges, not the least of which is remembering to care for their own health and well-being while caring for a loved one.

Caregivers need to remember: It’s OK to take care of yourself when you’re caring for someone else.

Sometimes, caregivers feel guilty about taking care of their own needs when a parent or a spouse has a serious illness or condition that requires their time and attention. But, failing to care for yourself can increase stress and pressure and make you a less effective caregiver.

It is important to learn how to thrive and not just survive as a caregiver.

An estimated 5.8 to 7 million Americans provide care to persons 65 years of age or older who need help with their everyday activities. Physical and mental health problems have often been linked with caregiving.

AARP Magazine reports that nearly 23 million households contain a caregiver, most often a woman, who is taking care of someone 50 or older. And, an estimated 43 percent of caregivers are themselves 50 or older.

Issues that caregivers need to address:

  • Guilt. This can include guilt about the fact that a spouse or a loved one is sick and you are not, or guilt about wanting to take care of your own needs while your loved one needs care.
  • Anger. This can include anger over being placed in such a situation, or simply frustration that your own needs are not being met.
  • Regret. This can include feeling sorry for yourself at missing out on enjoyable activities.
  • Resentment. This can include resenting your loved one for placing you in this situation.

How to address these issues:  Recognize the sources of caregiving stress and identify what you can and cannot change.

What caregivers need to do to manage their own self-care:

  1. Take responsibility. Realize that you are responsible for your personal well-being and getting your needs met. This includes maintaining activities and relationships.
  2. Be realistic. Understand what the person you are caring for can and cannot do. Understand his or her medical condition.
  3. Focus on what you can do.
  4. Communicate effectively. It is your responsibility to tell others about your needs and concerns.
  5. Learn from your emotions. Do not repress or deny your feelings but listen to what they are telling you.
  6. Get help when needed. Help can come from community resources, family and friends, or professionals. Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed or exhausted to ask for help
  7. Set goals and work toward them. Be realistic.

Kendra White is the Community Relations Coordinator for UPMC for Life. For more information, visit www.upmchealthplan.com.