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November 23, 2015

Health matters: Taking care of the caregiver
Danvers Herald

By Sarah Shepard, LICSW
November is a time of family gatherings. It is a season of thankfulness. And it is dedicated as National Family Caregivers Month and National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, which provides a unique opportunity to recognize the invaluable role of the family members who care for their loved ones. Caregiving is the ultimate gift, whether it involves a few hours each week, a call from afar, or continual day-to-day support.

A caregiver is defined as anyone who provides support or hands-on assistance to another, whether they’re a relative, a friend or a neighbor. How many people do you know who are caregivers, even if they don’t call themselves that? Every caregiver is at risk of developing physical and/or emotional health problems if they don’t pay attention to their own needs. And oftentimes caregivers put the needs of others above themselves, forgetting to replenish their own supply of energy. Of course, caregiving has its rewards. The knowledge that you made a difference; the ability to keep your loved one home where they want to be or the satisfaction of actually providing hands-on care.

If you are a caregiver, or know someone who is, help them find ways to care for themselves. Here are some suggestions from Care Dimensions:
 

  • Know how to ask for help: Make a list of some of the daily activities you do for your loved one. Now make a list of the things you do for yourself and your family. Star those items that could be done by someone else. When someone offers to help, pick one of those starred items: pick up groceries, drop off the kids at music lessons, go to the dry cleaners. The key is to be specific in what you ask for, and you just may be amazed at what you get in return. People want to help; they often just don’t know what to do. Give them specifics.
  • Make time for yourself: One woman, whose mother had hospice care, shared what she remembered most: “The home health aide came and suggested I take some time for myself. I’d walk down the street to the beach and just watch the waves along the shore. I was always reluctant to go, but felt so refreshed when I returned. Having 45 minutes to myself made a big difference.” If you can’t leave the house, try some time in the garden or a long bath.
  • Be forgiving of yourself: Don’t expect to be perfect. It’s natural to be angry, to feel overwhelmed and frustrated when your life has been turned inside out. What is important is what you do with those feelings. The best way to deal with them is to recognize them and find ways to express them safely. Talk to someone who will listen. Most importantly, forgive yourself for feeling angry, overwhelmed and frustrated. Too often guilt over these feelings only accentuates them. Find and connect with others who face similar situations.
  • Surround yourself with small rewards: Little things such as a good book, a special meal or a vase of fresh flowers are small indulgences that can refresh your spirit.
  • Recognize the loss you’ll feel: Many caregivers are surprised to discover the grief and loss they feel from the caregiving situation, and they feel and grieve the loss of the previous relationship they had with their loved ones. These are natural feelings.
  • Get documents in order: There are several documents that are helpful to have in order, such as a durable power of attorney and health care proxy. In addition, a list of healthcare providers and their contact information along with an updated medications list can make caregiving easier.

Caregivers can reduce their stress and have more confidence if they are prepared. Families may find our 10 Steps to making the most of living with a serious illness or Know Your Choices: A Guide for People with Serious Illness as helpful tools in the caregiving process; contact us if you’d like a copy. We’ve also launched a new cable TV show titled “Timing is Everything” to educate the public on living with an advanced illness and the benefits of hospice and palliative care. The show, which airs on Danvers Cable Access TV (DCAT) and is also available on our website, is a part of Care Dimensions’ community education and outreach program geared toward caregivers and people living with advanced illness. You don’t need to go it alone as a caregiver. If you are caring for a loved one with an advanced illness visit www.CareDimensions.org or call 888-283-1722 to learn more about our services and support.

Sarah Shepard, LICSW is the manager of Psycho-Social Support Services for Care Dimensions.


Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 90 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.