The Role of Caregiver

This title really ought to read plural, the ROLES of a caregiver, because there are many tasks and responsibilities that go with care-giving, and about the time it seems the condition(s) has changed, it evolves yet again. This narrative will attempt to offer general, broadly-applied concepts that fit many clinical and personal situations. For more individual clinical detail, feel free to contact nurse@goodshepherdmpls.org.

It is very common that the role of caregiving becomes an on-going series of tasks, from providing transportation for medical appointments, to round-the-clock assistance with mobility and/or management of physical care, to keeping up a household including meals, laundry, maintenance of home and yard. Acting as caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding which increases physical and emotional stress for both the caregiver and the patient. In order to strengthen and support the caregiver, this information will address the stress of the caregiving role. Typically as caregiver there is the responsibility for finances, even for someone who has never taken that responsibility before now. There is often a change in family relationships when one fully depends on the other.

Often a family member willingly and cheerfully takes on the role of caregiving out of pure love and good intentions. Do not forget how it was at the onset of illness. But over time, the caregiver suffers serious stress which may manifest as headaches, body aches, chronic fatigue, ‘forgetting’ to eat, i.e. putting the sick person first under all circumstances. The long-term effects of this sort of physical and emotional stress might include anxiety and depression, a weakened immune system, weight gain or loss, indigestion, difficulty in paying attention to concerns outside of the caregiver role.

Without being too simplistic, it’s important to maintain your own health if you are caring for another family member. Therefore, see your own physician when you have some signs of caregiver stress.

Describe your home situation, perhaps there are medications to help you, for instance, if your blood pressure is out of range; or perhaps your doctor can suggest some home health care to give you some respite yourself, thereby relieving some of your own stress.

Tension, frustration, exhaustion may become manageable in a few common ordinary ways.

  • Complete a small task, to give yourself a feeling of accomplishment, i.e. even as simple as folding clothes.

  • Eat right, including protein, fruits, vegetables.

  • Get enough sleep; nap when possible.

  • Set aside time each day for prayer and meditation.

  • Get and use a coloring book yourself --- really!

  • Keep a daily journal.

  • Schedule time with friends or family to come to visit you, as well as your family member who is ill.

  • Consider getting a pet; if you have one, keep it close.

  • Ask for, and accept help. Keep a to-do list handy for someone who wishes to be helpful for you. Or perhaps, as someone pointed out, ask the person who offers to help stay with your loved one so YOU can tend to the to-do list. It can be a therapeutic stress reliever to rake the yard or sweep the garage. Being open to accepting help when it is offered is sometimes hard to do. Do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself because self-care enables you to keep your loved one at home.