Taking on the role of caregiver for a family member can be as rewarding as it is overwhelming. Caregivers can become so consumed with trying to meet the needs of the loved one in their care that they are unable to take care of themselves and meet their own basic needs. This can lead to extreme stress and burnout. As a concerned friend or family member of a family caregiver, there are things you can do to support your loved one and watch out for the signs and symptoms of stress and overload.
One of the big ways you can help a person who is the primary caregiver for a loved-one is to offer to provide respite care so the caregiver can take a break. Offer to come in and help so the caregiver can get out of the house, go to a movie, run errands alone, or do things to rejuvenate and relax. The more often you can do this, the less likely the primary caregiver will feel completely overwhelmed and unsupported.
If you cannot provide respite care, perhaps you can help run errands, prepare meals, help with housework or gardening, or provide companionship to the caregiver and the loved-one. Offering to help with transportation, household chores, special seasonal projects, or including the caregiver and individual he or she is caregiving for in your social plans can also help to alleviate feelings of alienation and stress.
Encourage the caregiver to access community resources and services. There are many support groups, adult day care programs, activity programs and classes, respite care, emergency help lines and other resources available for individuals who are providing in-home care for a family member or loved one. Isolation and feeling alienated from the outside world is one of the leading causes of stress and strain on a caregiver. Encourage and support–providing information, transportation, etc.–that the caregiver access these resources and services to support the very difficult job of caregiving.
Encourage the caregiver to get regular physical checkups, eat healthy and get some exercise. These are mainstays in keeping healthy and being on the lookout for any stress-induced or exhaustion-related illnesses or conditions. Caregivers are often so focused on their loved-ones care that they don’t take the time to look after their own physical well-being. Stress that it is important that they stay healthy in order to continue to provide adequate care. Watch out for signs of depression, anxiety, exhaustion and sleeplessness in the caregiver–these can lead to serious health problems.
Even though you may not be the one doing the primary care for an individual or loved one, doesn’t mean you can’t help and support the caregiver. Staying close and involved and stepping in to encourage, support and assist go a long way in keeping a caregiver healthy.