Being a Happier Caregiver

By Anna Loengard, MD

When Helen’s mother had a stroke in 1994, Helen became her caregiver. Working full-time as a teacher and living 20 minutes drive from her mother, each visit takes at least couple of hours. Fortunately, her mother’s stroke left few physical side effects, so she was able to remain independent for awhile. Even so, she still needed someone to help her be more attentive to her blood pressure and the rest of her medical care.

Eventually, Helen’s mom needed cataract surgery in both eyes and then broke her foot and her wrist in quick succession. For all of these events, she leaned on her daughter for assistance. Then, in 2003, at the age of eighty-five, Helen’s mother had a second stroke. This time it caused paralysis on her right side and she had difficulty expressing herself verbally. She now requires care twenty-four hours a day which, thankfully, her long-term care insurance and savings pay for at home. Nonetheless, Helen spends roughly twenty hours a week coordinating everything else her mother needs – taking her to and from doctors’ appointments, shopping for food and clothes, overseeing and training her caregivers and more.

Helen’s story is common. An estimated 44 million people take care of another adult in the United States each year. Are you one of them? You may say “yes” immediately, or maybe you don’t realize how much time and effort you’re devoting to looking after that person and so you don’t identify yourself as a caregiver.

Whether your loved one lives with you full-time, five miles away or on the mainland, the work you are doing to keep him or her living in the community (i.e. not in a nursing home) is probably unpaid and sometimes stressful – but extremely important. A caregiver’s tasks run the gamut from monitoring someone with dementia 24/7 – to taking a loved one to appointments, fetching their medicines or groceries, hiring and overseeing home care workers or calling to check in multiple times a day. In many cases, caregivers balance the responsibility of a job, a family and someone who has chronic or serious illness and needs special attention. It can be gratifying to recognize and solve problems, and then see a better quality of life for someone you love. At the same time caregivers sometimes feel underappreciated, stressed and overwhelmed. If you fall into this category, it is important to seek out ways that can help you feel less burdened.

Caregivers, particularly those reporting stress, have been shown to have an increased risk of death compared to non-caregivers. If you feel depressed or that your own health is suffering, you should make it a priority to visit your own doctor to be sure that your own medical problems are well treated. And keep in mind that you cannot be a good caregiver if you don’t take care of yourself.

St. Francis Healthcare System may be able to help. We offer an extensive range of services, from bathing services to home health nursing care and Hospice services, all designed to support caregivers to keep their seriously ill loved ones at home for as long as possible. Our highly skilled, trained professionals can work with you to design a care plan that works for everyone concerned. We understand, and we want to help.

To learn more, call us at (808) 547-6500.