Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be adult children,
spouses, siblings, friends or neighbors, who help with daily activities
such as bathing, feeding and clothing. The caregiver may be the only
person who can take a loved one to doctors' appointments. The
long-distance caregiver may call weekly, help with expenses or support
the main caregiver.
According to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), more
than 50 million people provide a level of care to a loved one with a
chronic disease each year. More than one relative helps out in some
families, but most caregivers go it alone.
"Caregiving can be a truly rewarding experience," says Suzanne Mintz,
co-founder and spokesperson of the National Family Caregivers
Association (NFCA). It can be a time to heal old wounds, end conflicts
and improve relationships. It can be a chance to serve a loved one.
But caregiving also can be demanding and time-consuming. It may even
raise your risk of stress-related disorders.
"Many of us believe in honoring our parents and take our marriage vows
seriously," Ms. Mintz says. "But the work of caregiving goes well beyond
what we can do. Asking for help is a sign of your love and caring, not
of weakness and shame. It is much more than a one-person job."
How to succeed
These tips are drawn from professional, government and charitable
groups: the American Society on Aging, the federal Administration on
Aging, the Family Caregiver Alliance, Children of Aging Parents and the
Don't go it alone
Ask others for help. Start with family and friends. Keep less
engaged family members informed. Set up a family conference,
seek suggestions and talk about disagreements.
Ask families with similar problems how they handled them.
Involve the person you're caring for. If possible, help the
person take responsibility and join in decisions.
Learn about your loved one's condition. Find specialists for
information and guidance.
Tap local, state and national resources. They can offer help
with transportation, nutrition or day care.
Watch for problems
Mental and physical signs of caregiver stress:
A lot of anger or fear
A tendency to overreact
Feeling depressed, isolated or overburdened
Thoughts of guilt, shame or inadequacy
Taking on more than you can handle
Weight loss or gain
Take time out
Be good to yourself. Take time away from caregiving and don't neglect
your personal and professional needs:
Get lots of rest and exercise.
Enjoy relaxing music.
Eat nutritious meals.
Visit with friends, plan leisure activities.
Do deep breathing.
Read a magazine.
Don't abuse alcohol or drugs, or overeat.
Keep a sense of humor.
Write your feelings in a journal.
Do spiritual meditation.
Set limits on what you can and cannot do.
Realize you're doing the best you can.
Join a support group.
Use community resources for help.
It's OK not to have all the answers. Seek help when you need it most:
Call a support hotline. Just having someone listen may help.
Speak with a counselor. A professional can help you understand
Talk with your religious adviser.
Attend a support group. Groups can explain your loved one's
condition, ease tension and provide a sense of what's important.
advocacy group with publications on aging, including recent
Aging: access to statistics, fact sheets and booklets.
of Aging Parents: information on caregiving and referrals to
support groups, care managers and other resources.
Locator: a service of the National Association of Area
Agencies on Aging with local services, including home-delivered
meals, transportation, legal assistance, housing options,
recreation and social activities, adult day care, senior center
programs and abuse prevention.
Caregiver Alliance: covers medical, social, public policy
and caregiving issues linked to brain impairments.
on the Aging: information and advocacy.
Family Caregivers Association: dedicated to aiding
caregivers through education, research and support.
Institute on Aging: conducts and supports research, training
and information on aging.
Women's League: focuses on issues unique to women as they
age and offers fact sheets on caregiving.
Foundation: offers support to people caring for a sick
spouse who need emotional care themselves.