Taking Care of Caregivers



Caregivers form an important part of our healthcare chain and we need to look after them. The blog gives some useful tips on how we can ease their burden.

Caregiving is an often-underappreciated aspect of healthcare. We realize the important role doctors and other healthcare professionals play in our well-being, but how often do we spare a thought for caregivers. Caregiving is so undervalued that caregivers themselves do not realize the significance of the work they do.

Before we get down to how we can take care of our caregivers, let us first understand who caregivers are and what caregiving involves.

Who Are Caregivers?

Caregivers are people who take care of others who are afflicted with a short-term or long-term condition. The term caregivers is used to refer to those who take care of their own family member(s), but in reality, it can apply to anyone who takes care of another person with a physical or a mental condition, with or without pay.

Informal caregivers are usually family members or friends who render caregiving without pay. Formal caregivers are paid to take care of people. The person receiving the care could be an adult, an elderly person or a child.

Typical Tasks of Caregivers

  • Helping with daily activities like bathing, eating, getting dressed, giving medicines, etc.
  • Cooking or doing other household activities.
  • Running errands.
  • Taking the patient to the hospital.
  • Emotionally supporting the patient.
  • Handling finances and making health-related decisions.
  • Co-ordinating doctor’s appointments and other medical requirements.
  • Giving the doctor information on the patient’s condition.

Types of Caregivers

Caregivers can be classified based on the kind of services they offer and their relationship with the person being cared for:

  • Family Caregiver: As is apparent from the name, this includes family members (immediate or relatives) who provide emotional, financial, social and other forms of support every day. They are not paid and offer their support voluntarily.
  • Professional Caregivers: The person who needs the care (or his/her family) can hire professional caregivers for either medical or non-medical assistance. These caregivers are usually hired through an agency.
  • Informal Caregivers: These are people who are known to the person who needs caregiving but they are not family members. Friends or neighbours who help out are typical examples of informal caregivers.
  • Private Caregivers: These caregivers are hired directly (without an agency) by the family and they provide non-medical and medical care to the person; this includes everything from transportation to paying bills. With private and professional caregivers, the need to move to a hospice care is eliminated and family members too are not burdened with caregiving’s demands.
  • Volunteer Caregivers: These are people who volunteer their time so that the primary caregiver can take a break from caregiving duties. To the person receiving the care too this change in company could be a welcome break.

Challenges Facing Caregivers

  • Financial:
    • In the case of family and informal caregivers, caregiving responsibilities might leave them with no choice but to quit their jobs. This drastically affects the family income.
    • If the caregiver wants to continue pursuing a career, he/she might be forced to settle for part-time jobs or jobs that offer flexible work hours.
    • These again will come with reduced pay and affect the financial situation of the caregiver and his/her family.
    • These are not the only financial challenges to be considered – in the case of family caregivers, there are additional medical expenses to be borne in the form of medicines and treatment and in some cases, house modifications to allow for a safer environment will be necessary.
  • Emotional:
    • The emotional challenges encountered in caregiving are plenty.
    • Family caregivers provide care round-the-clock and this can affect their own mental and physical health.
    • Often, these caregivers ignore their own health and dispense with preventive health check-ups for themselves.
    • This might be because of the stress and the responsibilities of caregiving which don’t give them any time to take a break.
    • Chronic stress puts them at an increased risk for heart conditions and stroke.
    • Seeing a loved one go through an illness is not easy and can affect the mental state of the caregiver.
    • Anger, weight loss and feeling depressed or sad are typical signs of caregiver exhaustion.
    • As if this is not enough, caregivers also suffer from guilt of not doing enough or they feel guilty when they take some time off for themselves.
  • Physical:
    • When the person cared for has physical limitations, the caregiver might have to help with lifting him/her from the bed, chairs, etc.
    • Moving them from one room to another or helping while transporting them may all be expected of the caregiver.
    • They may also need to provide support during physiotherapy sessions.
    • All these require not only physical strength and balance but also a whole lot of patience. It is not easy and the caregiver might even end up hurting himself/herself.

How Can We Help Caregivers

Caregivers ensure continuity of care from hospitals to homes and healthcare industry leaders should focus on empowering caregivers. Involving caregivers in the treatment process, educating them about the health condition of their loved ones and teaching them how to manage it would be invaluable. Connecting caregivers to support groups too will help immensely in the long run.

Caregivers rarely ask for support. It is up to us to offer it.

  • If possible, give them a day off by filling in for them. The respite will be much appreciated.
  • Show your support. Take care of their meals, offer to help with their kids, run errands for them, etc. Ask if you can visit them or if that is not possible, even a phone call will do to let them know you care.
  • Many caregivers feel that what they do is not appreciated. So, when they choose to talk it out, listen to them without interrupting or judging them.
  • Keep track of their health. Make sure they go for preventive health checks, screenings, etc.
  • Check if there are support groups that you can connect them to. Just knowing that they are not alone in what they are going through will help them.

Self-Care Practices:

If you are a caregiver, there are certain things you can do for your mental and physical well-being.

  • Ask for help when you need it. Chances are once your loved ones know that you are feeling stressed, they themselves will offer to help. Accept the break and do something you enjoy.
  • Get rid of the guilt that you are not doing enough.
  • If you are overwhelmed with tasks, prioritize them and do what is most important first.
  • Learn to say no when the situation demands it.
  • Make sure you stay in touch with friends and family.
  • Look after your health. Sleep well, eat healthy and find some time for physical exercise – even a short walk will make a difference.
  • Do not ignore your health screenings and vaccinations.
  • If you feel you need professional help, do not hesitate to reach out for it.

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