Employee & Community Health

Considerations for caregivers

6/24/2019 by Dr. Robert Stroebel

ECH_Caregiver_Stress_01_widget

As our population ages and becomes more ill and frail, more Americans — actually one in five — find themselves in the role of caregiver. Of the people who need care, two-thirds rely on care from family members, friends and neighbors. 

The assistance these caregivers provide ranges from: 

  • Activities of daily living (hygiene, dressing, eating, toileting, shopping, housekeeping, managing finances, setting up appointments, preparing food, transportation, etc.)
  • More involved care (giving medications, tube feedings, physical therapy, monitoring behavior of a loved one with cognitive impairment, etc.)

Caregiving can be a 24/7 job. The risk to caregivers is that they aren't able to get enough rest, exercise, recuperate from illness, keep up their own social interactions and family involvement, and neglect their own care. They may begin to see their loved one only as an obligation or a burden and lose the positive feelings of their relationship. 

Not only is burnout an issue for caregivers, it also can be a safety concern for patients. If their caregiver is worn out, there may be no backup plan or person.

Are you cut out to be a caregiver?

If you're faced with becoming a caregiver, before you agree to the role, be honest with yourself — and your loved one's health care provider — about your own resources and abilities. Do you have the skill, time, energy, financial resources and possibly home arrangements to do this? 

If not, there are resources available to help you explore your options. Here are just a few for families and caregivers seeking information and help:

If you step up, be sure to have your own personal support system — friends, family members, church, a support group — in place to help you care for yourself. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to tell your support system what you need, whether it's having someone come for an hour so you can putter in the garden or going to an "escapism" movie with you. 

Working with a care team

Medical appointments become a way of life for patients and caregivers. Be sure you go to them with your loved one! You're not intruding and being there can help both of you. The appointment can be as much about your caregiving role as the medical needs of the patient. 

  • Tell the care team member that you're the caregiver. The patient's care plan should include instruction, guidance and support for you. Don't be afraid to ask for that. 
  • Let them know what type of tasks you're doing for the patient. Be very specific about the areas where you need more instruction, such as how to help with toileting, preparing low-sodium meals or performing physical therapy at home. 

Caregivers are an amazing breed and an essential member of their loved one's care team.

Dr. Robert Stroebel is a general internist in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He's an associate professor of Medicine, Mayo College of Medicine, and has practiced internal medicine for the past 24 years, with a career focus in practice redesign.