In the world of f-bomb cancer and other illnesses, a “Caregiver” is someone who is responsible for attending to the physical, emotional, or financial needs of another person.
There are formal and informal caregivers. Formal caregivers are trained professionals paid for their services. Hiring professional caregivers is expensive. Really expensive as a matter of fact. Unfortunately hiring formal, professional caregivers is often cost prohibitive for the people who need it most. This often leaves family and/or friends to become “informal” caregivers who provide care without pay.
Caregivers are all around us. In fact, one in three households in America report that at least one person has served as an unpaid caregiver. That equates to nearly 65 million people in the U.S. who are caregivers for an ill, aged or disabled family member or friend during a given year. Isn’t that a staggering number?
As a nurse-turned-patient, I can say with 150% confidence that being a Caregiver is some of the hardest work in the world. It is painstakingly difficult, physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically and, it must be said, financially. I can’t overstate how difficult being a caregiver is.
Most caregivers are compassionate, generous people who are eager to take care of everyone else (especially someone they love), but it comes at the expense of their own needs:
- Eating? Not often or healthily.
- Sleeping? Barely a wink.
- Bathing? Infrequently.
- Time away from the bedside? Rarely.
Acknowledging the caregiver is paramount as they too “need care.” Indeed, each caregiver is ultimately responsible for his or her own well-being; however, there are some simple (yet valuable) points to consider when it comes to caring for a caregiver (or that of a loved one):
- Please and thank you go a long way because the job of a caregiver (paid or unpaid) is often taken for granted.
- Remember to ask the caregiver about his or her personal life. With the focus on the patient, it’s easy to forget that the caregiver’s life matters too.
- Talk about things other than the patient’s condition. Everyone will benefit when the conversation is not always about the patient.
- Give the caregiver adequate breaks or time away from their care-taking duties. This is HUGE! I would frequently sit with a patient while a caregiver would take a shower, walk around the block or even go out for dinner.
- Encourage the caretaker to interact with others outside of caring for the patient. Communication with the outside world avoids isolation.
- Also encourage activities totally different from the caretakers responsibilities such as going for a walk, watching a movie, etc.
- Keep humor alive and well. In serious situations, laughter eases tension.
Here are some additional resources to learn more about how to care for a caregiver:
- National Cancer Institute - http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/caring-for-the-caregiver/page1
- American Cancer Society - http://www.cancer.org/search/index?QueryText=caregiver
- CancerCare- http://www.cancercare.org/search?q=caregiver
- Family Caregiver Alliance - www.caregiver.org
- National Family Caregivers Association - www.nfcacares.org
- “You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You” by: Jane Heller
- “Cancer Caregiving A to Z” by The American Cancer Society