ARTICLES / Caregiver /
Share This Article
By Michael Plontz
A family member has just been
diagnosed with an illness that will eventually require
round-the-clock care. Of course you want to be the one
giving that care. This decision is usually made without
hesitation; of course we want to be our loved one’s
caregiver. Who else could take better care of them?
However, when the reality of your decision sinks in,
your head will be swimming with uncertainty, anxiety,
and maybe even fear. Certainly you will have many
questions. Welcome to Caregiving 101, a primer for
First of all, arm yourself with knowledge. An old maxim
states that “Knowledge is power,” and it’s true.
Knowledge will empower you to take the best care of your
loved one and yourself. Learn all that you can about
your loved one’s condition, illness or disease. There
are local branches of national organizations like the
Alzheimer’s Association and the Cancer Society all over
the country. Use them as a tool to find out all about
your loved one’s present condition and what the future
may hold for both of you.
Another reason to learn is to take better care of your
loved one. You may educate yourself through health care
manuals, books and videos. The Internet is also a good
source of information, but navigate carefully through
that material because not all of it is valid. Also, ask
lots of questions of your health care professionals.
They are the best people to show you proper techniques
like transferring, lifting and bathing. When you learn
all that you can, you will be more confident in your
Caregiving can be an isolating experience, so it’s
helpful to talk to others who are, or have been, in your
shoes. You will feel that you are a part of a growing
community of caregivers. You may also learn about
options and community resources that you were not aware
of from other caregivers. These people can also help
with difficult decisions concerning your loved one.
Determining your responsibilities will probably be one
of the first things you struggle with, so talk to others
who’ve been there before.
You must remember to take regular breaks from your
caregiving responsibilities. You can’t be good to
someone else if you’re not good to yourself. Use your
relatives. They can help in several ways—financially,
socially, and as respite support. If relatives are
unavailable or do not exist, try community services like
a volunteer group at your local church. Try and follow
these guidelines for caregiving breaks: take
half-an-hour a day to practice yoga, meditation,
needlepoint, reading, etc.; spend a couple of hours a
week away from the house at the mall, coffeehouse,
library, etc.; monthly you should have an evening out
with friends, go to a play or concert, etc.; on a yearly
basis you should go on a well-planned (and
well-deserved) vacation. These guidelines will help in
avoiding “caregiver burnout.”
Your community most likely has
organizations about which you never gave a second
thought until now. These may include, but are not
limited to, Meals on Wheels, day care centers, and home
care agencies. If applicable, contact your local Area
Agency on Aging for a list of services and
organizations. Your local medical supply store may have
gadgets and devices to enhance your loved one’s
abilities, at the same time making your life a little
easier. You might also inquire about local, state or
federal programs that might provide financial aid for
you and your loved one. As needs increase, so do costs.
Understanding which programs can help and what you can
afford, will allow you to plan for the future.
One way to deal with the emotional roller coaster you
may experience is to get your feelings down on paper.
Some journal entries might address the following
subjects: How do you feel now? What are your fears
and/or concerns? What outcomes would you like? What
losses have you noticed so far? What changes in your
relationship with your loved one have cause you to feel
sad? What changes have given you comfort? Journaling is
a healthy way to put your feelings “out there” and to
possibly alleviate some of the anger, frustration and
helplessness you may be feeling.
Caregiving need not be a lonely and emotionally
debilitating experience. According to the latest
statistics on caregiving for the National Family
Caregivers Association, nearly half of the U. S.
population has a chronic condition. From that number 41
million are limited in their daily activities while 12
million are unable to live independently or even leave
the house. One can deduce from these numbers that there
are millions of family caregivers out there. So keep in
mind that you are not alone, and best of luck to you and
your loved one.