By Melissa Weidman
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, more than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year. The value of these “free” services is estimated to be $375 billion a year.
The true cost of services is high — in the course of caring for their loved ones, this mostly female volunteer workforce often suffers stress and declining health themselves. Here are a few tips for caregivers to get the support they need.
•Ways to provide support: No single approach to providing emotional support works for everyone.
Encourage the patient to become more involved in decision making about his or her own care.
Don’t be afraid to discuss the disease. A patient may feel more comfortable talking to you, the caregiver, than with other friends or family members.
Holding a hand, giving a hug or a back rub can convey that you are not afraid, you care and that the patient is not alone.
Your company is important. You don’t have to always be doing something. Allow for quiet time. Share a TV show, read or sew.
•Caring for the caregiver: Caring for a person with a serious illness can be a very rewarding experience. You are truly making a difference in the life of the person for whom you are caring. But what about you?
Where does your support and strength come from? Do you need to cry? Complain? Scream? Would you like some help but don’t know who to ask?
Caregivers often fail to evaluate their own sources of strength, coping skills or emotional attitudes. You may be so busy meeting the sick person’s needs that you don’t allow yourself time to consider your own needs. If you want to take the best possible care of the patient, take the best possible care of yourself.
•Suggestions for coping: Take a break. Allow yourself some time away, even if it is only for a few minutes.
Get some rest. When the person you are caring for sleeps or naps, you should too. Don’t use this time to get other things done if you are feeling tired.
Let someone know what you are going through and how you feel. Someone who just listens can be a great source of strength.
Join a support group. Sharing with others who are going through a similar experience can be very helpful.
Accept your limitations. No one can be the perfect caregiver.
Allow yourself to laugh. Appreciate the humorous moments.
Ask for help. This can be very difficult, especially at first. Don’t hesitate to make use of the support that is available to you.
Melissa Weidman, director of community relations and outreach, HopeHealth. A non-profit healthcare organization delivering an array of medical care, care management and support services throughout eastern Massachusetts. Services includes: Hope Hospice; Hope HouseCalls; Hope Dementia & Alzheimer’s Services; Hope Care for Kids; Hope Community Care; and education and training. Visit HopeHealthCo.org or call 508-957-0200.