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RX For The Caregiver

By  Janet Listokin, M.A., C.T.R.S.

 

Do caregivers experience physical and emotional stress?  Do they have special needs, which are to be addressed so that they can perform effectively? Are there ways caregivers can, and must, take care of themselves?  “Quality of Life,” most often, is discussed in terms of the individual requiring the care.  However, it must also be experienced by the caregiver.

There are many individuals who require care at home or in long-term facilities – children and adults who are developmentally disabled, those with physical disabilities and individuals with cognitive impairments.  Care is shouldered by family members and/or professional caregivers and, depending on the individuals’ needs, may include minimal assistance during the day to total dependency 24 hours, seven days a week.  Such demand places a tremendous burden on the caregiver, which may result in some or all of the following emotions: sadness, physical pain, anger, frustration, hopelessness, despair, isolation, sleep and appetite difficulties, anxiety, low energy and depressed mood.   

For caregivers employed at large facilities, the stress of caring for many medically and/or mentally compromised patients/residents can be overwhelming.  Though there are scheduled break times, the caregiver is assigned several tasks which must be completed by a certain time as not to interfere with the natural rhythm of life.  With the shortage of skilled professionals within the nursing field, caregivers are often asked to “float” to other units and assume additional responsibilities.

The professional caregiver who works in the home may have additional responsibilities as compared to those working in facilities.  They may include physical care without appropriate assistive devices, cooking, escorting the individual into the community, providing recreational interests, etc.  All these tasks are to be accomplished without the support and camaraderie of other personnel.

The part-time or full-time family caregiver bears the heaviest of burdens, assuming the role without any formal training/education.  Adding an additional layer of emotional stress is the caregiver’s realization that the individual who now needs their care is not the child they had envisioned once upon a time or the adult they remember fondly from their own childhood. This illustrates the proverbial reversal of roles from care recipient to care provider.

Which is your lifestyle?  The professional caregiver who returns home from work to again assume a caregiving role with children, parents, relatives, spouse, etc.?  Or the family caregiver, upon a similar return from work immediately assumes the responsibility just vacated by the professional caregiver?  Or lastly, the full-time family primary caregiver who has assumed all responsibilities all of the time?  Whichever role, the continuous stress and non-stop responsibility can lead to burnout and affects job performance.  Caregivers need to set aside time to relax and pursue leisure interests.

For any individual to function effectively and efficiently, no matter their profession, but especially for caregivers, they need to be able to include leisure and recreation in their daily lives.  Therapeutic recreation, traditionally, has focused on individuals with illnesses and disabling conditions.  However, today’s caregivers, given their responsibilities and those who require their service, need to understand and appreciate the importance of how recreation and leisure can be utilized and benefit their lives.

Leisure is not merely a time spent not working or doing chores.  Rather, leisure can be thought of as a state of mind that results from self-motivated, enjoyable interactions with oneself, one’s environment or with others.  When engaged in leisure activities, the caregiver can focus on the activities in which he learns new skills, improves performance and/or demonstrates competency.  The following are some suggested activities and the benefits, which may be derived from them:

  • Art/Music/Photography – creativity and self-expression
  • Meditation/Yoga/TaiChi – release of stress, sense of harmony·
  •  Physical exercises – improved health, release of tension
  • Reading/Games – sense of accomplishment, mental stimulation  

Depending on the caregiver’s preference, leisure activities can be pursued individually or with friends/family.  Meeting new people during an activity can add to the enjoyment of the experience.
 
It is essential that the caregiver breaks the routine of his/her day and commit to an activity of his/her choice.  A daily, weekly or even a monthly commitment will surely benefit the individual.  Here are some steps to get started:

  • Determine what kind of activity would be of most interest.  Do you want to try something new?  Perhaps, you would like to resume a previous hobby?
  • Research where the activity is offered, cost, frequency, time and refund policy. Check local listings of community centers, colleges, museums, etc.  Choose an activity that piqued your interest and one which does not add any additional burden on you. 
  • If applicable, arrange for another family member or friend to assume the responsibility for the person you care for in the home during your absence.  Be comfortable turning to others to assist you – you cannot do it alone.  In addition, research community-based programs in which the individual you are caring for may be eligible to attend.  Day habilitation centers, adult day health programs, etc. offer specialized programming for individuals with special needs.  In addition, many after school programs offer inclusive recreational opportunities.
  • Register for the activity/class/program and STICK WITH IT!!  When initially registering, sign up for the least amount of allowable time. 
  • Periodically, consciously evaluate the activity and determine whether it is providing you with what you were seeking.  If you feel no intrinsic or extrinsic benefit or enjoyment, it is time to try something different.

Needless to say, a caregiver’s life is stressful.  Since recreation and leisure are vital components for a healthy lifestyle, it is essential they be incorporated into the caregiver’s natural rhythm of life.  Through leisure and recreation, the caregiver can improve physical and emotional health, grow spiritually, and experience creative opportunities. Quality of life will be enhanced and, in turn, the caregiver will contribute to the quality of life of those they care for.

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