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Experiencing the challenges and savoring the rewards of Caregiving

Experiencing the challenges and savoring the rewards of Caregiving

In a USA Today article (6/23/05), Texas A & M professor of counseling, Terry Hargrave says the biggest challenge facing boomer marriages in the next decade will be the stress of parental Caregiving.
Who Are Caregivers?
They are husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, nephews, nieces, friends, & neighbors. They are:
* More than 50 million people in the US providing care for a loved one;
* 44.4 % of whom provide care without any pay;
* Caregivers saving an estimated $257 billion dollars per year to our system;
* Providing care an average of 4.3 years;
* 62% serving in multiple roles (care for parent or spouse and children);
* 60% working during some aspect of their Caregiving responsibilities.
Caregiving Woes
Lay Caregivers usually are expected to transform overnight into a health care paraprofessional helping the person whom they are caring for to transition from acute care to home. While Caregiving can be one of the most rewarding roles that a person will assume, it can also be one of the hardest.
Most Caregivers share some common concerns, such as:
_ How to find time for self;
_ How to manage emotional and physical stress;
_ How to balance work and family responsibilities;
_ How to keep the person they care for safe;
_ How to find easy activities to do with the person they care for;
_ How to talk with doctors and other healthcare professionals; and
_ How to understand or make end-of-life decisions.
How do I manage my role as a Caregiver?
Remember every road has potholes, bumps, curves, smooth surfaces, and big shoulders. All transitions are difficult. You do not have to go through this alone. Attending Caregiving events, support groups and reading educational materials can provide you with some of the concepts that will assist you in the role of a Caregiver.
To get you started in the role of a Caregiver:
Step 1
* Set Realistic, Measurable, and Attainable Goals
* Make a list of specific things that you need help with, such as grocery shopping, laundry, errands, lawn care, housecleaning, or spending time with the care recipient so you can do something else.
* When someone says "let me know if there is anything I can do" provide them the list.
Step 2
* Communicate the care recipient's needs as well as your own. Talk about what is going on!
* Learn about the illness or situation regarding the person for whom you are providing care. Understanding the basics can often relieve tension from the unknown and better equip the Caregiver to handle situations as they arise. Also, you are able to utilize the expertise of health care providers when you meet with them by asking informative questions.
Step 3
* Common problems among Caregivers can include denial, guilt, hopelessness, powerlessness, anger, and frustration.
* Signs of Stress-irritability, insomnia, depressions, inability to concentrate.
* Deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery and meditation, relaxation tapes, massage, aromatherapy, counseling, support groups, pastoral care and social services.
* Taking a 15 minute break a day and doing something just for you can be enough to rejuvenate your spirit.
* Washington County CARES activities, Caregiver's Conference
Step 4
* Studies have shown that Caregivers are twice as likely to experience a major illness or mental breakdown during a prolonged period of Caregiving or shortly after.
Step 5
* Even the smallest of victories can lift the spirit and give renewed confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Where to Begin
Health care has become challenging--for the patient and the Caregiver. The important ingredient is education. The informed patient and family that takes time to learn about the illness, it's treatment options and long-term prognosis, the more likely they are to have a successful outcome of care. Unfortunately, a crisis can erupt not providing us the opportunity to become an educated Caregiver.
Washington County CARES, a local coalition, has been working to support Caregivers for nearly four years. The coalition participates in the annual Caregiver's Conference and hosts the Sr. Living and Caregiving Expo at the Valley Mall in October each year. The group also creates a yearly Caregiver's calendar as means of providing education and support to Caregivers throughout the year. A Caregiver's support group through CARES is hosted each month at Somerford Assisted Living. Coming this fall, the organization will host a website with resource information on local agencies that can be very supportive to Caregivers. Caring Connections, a National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) consumer education program provides comprehensive information about advance care planning, hospice and palliative care, Caregiving, grief and more. One way the organization is dispersing information is through a website,, which was funded through a grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, New Jersey.

Dawn Johns, BS, is the Community Relations Director for Hospice of Washington County, Inc. and the President of Washington County CARES. To learn more contact her at 301-791-6360 or email at

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