Everyone will be touched by caregiving at some point in their lives. Rosalynn Carter said it first and she said it best: "There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers." The latest data shows that 53 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult. Nearly one in five caregivers provide care to an adult with health or functional needs.
Caregiving literally means the activity or profession of regularly looking after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person. This definition of caregiving includes a very large population of paid and unpaid caregivers. Many people don't consider themselves caregivers. They may be a parent with a child with a disability; helping an older loved one by picking up groceries for them or helping them pay their bills; a staff who provides supports and services; part of the "sandwich" generation, i.e. taking care of their own children while also taking care of older family members. The caregiving umbrella covers a wide range of tasks, responsibilities and "other duties as assigned".
The caregiving role provides challenges and rewards to both the caregiver and the person receiving care. The role can often be overwhelming and exhausting. Many caregivers feel that there's always something more to do and they just can't get it all done. This ongoing challenge can often lead to increased stress and the decreased health of the caregiver. The person receiving care may also feel guilty about needing so much time and needing help to do things they used to do themselves. As the relationship progresses, a balance can be found through good communication, realistic expectations and additional caregiving resources.
Additional resources can often be found within the network of family and friends, in the community, online and through support groups. Caregivers are never alone, but can often feel very isolated especially when medical needs increase or rehabilitation for injuries or other health conditions is necessary. Many caregivers can find support through talking with others and finding local networks, such as through churches, for assistance. As caregiving responsibilities may increase, the opportunities and time for these social connections and support may decrease. Special effort and attention to keep the balance is especially critical at these times.
By nature, caregivers put others' needs first and don't feel that they can take time for themselves. They feel guilty about taking time for their own needs, however, they must be mindful to take that time to recharge and renew themselves. It is like the airplane instructions of putting on your own oxygen mask first so you can then attend to others. Likewise, caregivers must stay healthy and happy in order to take care of others. Taking even five minutes for a quick walk or just to sit and do nothing will ultimately lead to increased health benefits and continued positive interactions. Self-care can also increase the capacity for patience and understanding when caregiving situations become more difficult. Self-care is often forgotten or is way down on the list of priorities for the day.
Caregivers also become master information managers. Setting up working organizational systems, such as filing or weekly medication boxes, makes many tasks much easier to manage. A medical manager can keep all information easily accessible. This system makes the management of medical information much easier. Information about services received can also become overwhelming. A similar system, set up by category, online or hard copy, helps keep that type of information easily organized and retrievable.
Technology can also be used to keep track of information and make life easier. Automatic reminders and alerts can be set up on smart phones. Safety alarms can be set up within the home to alert caregivers remotely to any motion at any time of day. Technology can also be used to help stay connected with family and friends. Video chats can provide uplifting times for both the caregiver and the person receiving care. Technology is also an easy way to get the next generation of caregivers involved!
Caregivers need ongoing support to continue to be effective in their roles. This need has been recognized by lawmakers at the state and federal levels. Recent legislation in New York State strengthens the support for caregivers through the Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. Congress received the Family Caregiving Advisory Council's report on 9/22/21 regarding the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act identifying the needs of caregivers.
In summary, the top five tips for finding balance while caregiving are to:
1. Appreciate caregiving time spent with the person.
2. Make social connections through in-person or online support.
3. Take care of yourself- physically, emotionally and mentally.
4. Manage information through organizing systems.
5. Use technology for tasks whenever possible.
Caregivers face many challenges, but can find balance and receive many rewards. Caregiving provides the satisfaction that someone else's life is improved and their needs have been met. The time spent in the caregiving role enriches both the giver and receiver of care. By helping one person at a time, caregivers really make all the difference.
To find more information on local support groups, go to: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2021/support-groups.html
For an excellent self-care workbook, go to: https://www.caregiversnetworkek.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/255/2018/09/selfcarebooklet.pdf
For a comprehensive overview of digital resources for caregivers, go to: https://www.caregiver.org/resource/digital-technology-family-caregiver/
Recent legislation in New York State strengthens the support for caregivers through the Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. Click here for more information on : https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/caregiving-advocacy/info-2014/aarp-creates-model-state-bill.html
Congress received the Family Caregiving Advisory Council's report on 9/22/21 regarding the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act identifying the needs of caregivers. For the full report and more details, go to: https://acl.gov/RAISE/report