It is estimated that there are approximately 62 million family caregivers of adults in the United States today, so chances are, if you are a healthcare professional, at least some of your patients have a family caregiver assisting them. It is believed that the stress from providing care to a loved one significantly increases a caregiver’s chance of developing a chronic illness herself, so while you are caring for your senior patients, don’t forget to care for the caregivers.
But how can you help your clients’ caregivers maintain their own health while caring for the health of another?
Stress the Importance of Self Care
One of the most important things for a caregiver to understand is that his own care also needs to be a priority. Some might argue that a caregiver’s own care is even more important than the care he is providing — if he doesn’t take care of himself, who will be there for the his loved one? Even so, although this may be easy to understand in theory, it is much harder to put into practice, particularly when the caregiver is dealing with a crisis situation.
While this might be the most common advice given to a family caregiver, unless he knows how to take care of himself, the advice is not really all that helpful. Giving him actual suggestions on how to take care of himself can be much more helpful if you personalize it to what you know about him. You might suggest more frequent check-in visits to keep his own health issues under control and encourage him to continue to do activities he enjoys, like yoga, walks with friends, or other healthy activities.
Sugarcoating the situation can set up a family for failure. If the situation is likely to be long-term and chronic, it’s important that the family and the caregiver are aware of this so that they use their resources accordingly. It may be fine for a family to provide 24-hour care for a short-term need like post-hospitalization or end-of-life hospice, but if the needs of the patient are likely to increase and continue over time, caregivers need to make sure that they do not burn themselves out in the early stages of the illness and have nothing left to give within a few months.
Pay Attention to Her Mental Health
A 2006 study indicates that 40–70 percent of family caregivers have symptoms of depression, and as many as half of them meet the criteria to be diagnosed with major depression. Because so many of the symptoms of depression can also come from a lack of self care, the caregiver may write them off as just a part of being a caregiver; things like exhaustion and weight gain or weight loss are easily explained away unless a healthcare professional explains the dangers of letting depression go untreated.