A caregiver, someone involved in assisting others with activities of daily living or perhaps medical issues as well, come in two different forms. Professional caregivers are paid to provide assistance in a variety of settings ranging from the person’s home to some type of care center.
However, there are also an estimated 44 million or more informal caregivers who are providing unpaid care to a child or adult, often on a daily basis. The caregiver may be a spouse, a relative or a close friend, there to help a loved one who can no longer take care of their daily needs on their own.
Providing such basic help to someone close to you can certainly be rewarding, but at the same time, it can also be difficult and demanding. A recent study of family caregivers found that almost half reported being “somewhat stressed,” and more than a third were “highly stressed.” Caregiving, especially if it is full time, can become overwhelming. It’s important to try to minimize that stress in order to avoid caregiver burnout.
A starting point is for caregivers simply to remind themselves that what they are doing has value, not just emotional value, but also real, measurable economic value. It’s been estimated that family caregivers annually provide more than 37 billion hours of care, worth an estimated $470 billion.
Another key to avoiding burnout is not to become isolated. Talk to family and friends about the stresses they’re facing and seek advice, support and help when it’s offered. Look online for some of the local and national caregiver support groups that offer advice and information and can help them get connected with others in a similar position.
They also have to be practical. On one level that means being as organized as possible to make their caregiving work a bit less stressful. But on another level it means recognizing that they aren’t super-human. They need a break every now and then, and they must find time to take care of their own health.
Check with a hospital or senior center to find out what they offer to support caregivers. Many communities today provide transportation services, home care, meal assistance and adult day care centers. Any such services can help reduce the stress and anxiety most caregivers face and allow them to better assist those who depend on them.
Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit www.counseling.org.