Considerations for caregivers
11/20/2023 by Robert Stroebel, M.D.
As our population ages and becomes more ill and frailer, 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 might include:
- 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 can't get enough rest or 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, but 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?
Before you agree to the role of caregiver, be honest with yourself and your loved one's healthcare clinician 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:
- Aging and Elderly Services (Olmsted County).
- Southeastern Minnesota Area on Aging.
- Elder Network.
- 125 Live.
- Senior LinkAge Line.
- Your place of worship. Many faith groups have volunteers who provide support in a variety of ways.
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 a movie with you as an "escape."
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.
Robert Stroebel, M.D., is a physician in the Division of Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and practices at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast. He has practiced internal medicine for the past 30 years, with a career focus in practice redesign.