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What It Means to Be a Caregiver

You are a caregiver if you provide social or physical support to an aging relative or friend, or to a person who is disabled. Caregivers may make weekly visits to a sick mother still living on her own. They may bring a frail father into their home for care. They may arrange for services for a relative who lives hundreds of miles away.

What caregivers share in common is the fact that they take time and energy from their lives to care for someone who needs their help.

Reactions to Being a Caregiver

Caring for someone on a regular basis is a mixed experience. There are the positive feelings associated with helping others. If you’re caring for your mother, father, or spouse, there is the satisfaction of knowing you are, in some way, returning the support they once provided you.

Caring for a frail relative also has its difficulties. Most caregivers experience some of these feelings:

Any of these responses, either alone or in combination, can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed. This is both common and understandable. It is important to monitor yourself and be alert to signs of caregiver exhaustion:

Taking Care of Yourself

There are steps you can take to avoid or reverse caregiver exhaustion. Remember: taking care of yourself is taking care of the person who depends on you. Try some of these ideas drawn from the experiences of many caregivers like yourself:

Share decision-making

 As long as the person you are caring for is able, involve him or her in the decisions that go along with care; try to be active partners. It will help your loved one retain a sense of independence, while taking some of the burden off of you.

Remember your needs

You need time to get away from your role as caregiver, to relax and to get additional support. These needs may create feelings of conflict or guilt, but again remember: you are taking care of the person who needs you by taking care of yourself.

Anticipate needs

The earlier you discuss needs, the more time you have to explore possibilities. Then you will feel better about the choices you need to make in the future.

Understand what you are dealing with

Gather information about the specific disease or conditions of the person you’re caring for. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to plan for the future.

Involve others

Ask other family members and friends for help. People usually are willing and pleased to be asked; they just may not volunteer. Consider a family meeting to brainstorm ideas and to see how to share responsibilities.

Talk

Share with someone outside the family about your reactions to caregiving. Use a friend who isn’t close to the situation as a sounding-board.

Be flexible

Just when you think you are in control, something will change. Being thrown off balance is frustrating; try to be ready for change.

Help is Available

As a caregiver, you are never alone. There are many people—family, friends, health care professionals, community services and others—who can help:

To Sum Up . . .

You may think that you just do not have the time, talent or resources to be a caregiver. But what it really comes down to is simply “being present” for another. While many aspects to caregiving call upon a wide range of skills—cooking, cleaning, bill paying, etc.—the starting, and ending, point is focusing on another person. We may find at times that we are short on funds, skills, or time, but when caring for another, we need to be long on attention. Holding someone’s hand, pulling the chair closer to the bed, putting everything else aside—that’s the heart of being a caregiver for someone you love.

More Resources

Contact Easterseals for more information about Easterseals services in your area 

Reprinted with permission from the book, Aging in Stride Plan Ahead, Stay Connected, Keep Moving.  © 2004, Caresource.

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