Being a caregiver isn’t easy. I know. I learned the hard way as I took care of my wife who died from pancreatic cancer three years ago. The stress of doing a job that most people aren’t trained for, on average, 20 hours a week or more, can impact your health. According to the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), one of every five family caregivers reports fair or poor health. And its not just physical health that suffers. Almost one-half to three-quarters of family caregivers show signs of clinical depression
So what can you do to keep your health as optimal as possible? Start by remembering that taking care of a loved one who faces a life threatening disease or injury is vastly different than helping someone who has the flu.
Here are three tips from Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing that can make your role as caregiver easier:
1. Understand the Diagnosis: Fully understand what the diagnosis is. This will dictate the kind of care that will be needed. Understanding includes not only the basics of how the disease works, but what the symptoms are, possible treatments and likely outcomes. When the doctor told my wife and I that my wife had pancreatic cancer, we both k enough that form of cancer to know it was quite serious. But neither of us k what the treatment options were, nor did we have a firm grasp of how her treatment would turn our world upside down.
2. Ask Questions: Modern medicine is highly complicated, but the simplest questions are often the most effective to ask. For example: What should you expect from the disease? Be sure the doctor or nurse with whom you are speaking takes time to explain it all and don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat something if you don’t understand.
3. Take Notes: Taking notes can help as you may find that due to stress, your memory may not be as complete as it could be. Find out what level of care is necessary at home and, from an expertise standpoint, how much of that you should undertake. Be clear the best ways to communicate with your medical care providers. Some prefer the phone while others may be fine with email.
There is certainly much more to being a caregiver than what these three tips suggest. As more people are being called upon to take care of loved ones, the number of households providing care for a loved one has tripled in the last decade. Longer life spans, shorter hospital stays and controlling medical costs all contribute to the increase.
NCFA reports that over half of all home caregivers for patients 50+ are already employed fulltime and juggle jobs and family responsibilities while caretaking. And, of course, they often do this by foregoing critical self care. The result is almost one-third of all adult children caregivers demonstrate symptoms of clinical depression. Care giving spouses who do not find ways to handle the inherent stress have a 63% higher chance of dying than non-care givers.
I encourage you to learn more about caregiving from NFCA. It’s a good idea to use professional assistance so that you can make well-founded choices. And I hope that all of your decisions will help you find ways to take care of yourself.
J. Dietrich Stroeh, founder of CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group, is author of Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing ( FolkHeart Press). For more information, visit ThreeMonthsBook.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. J. Dietrich Stroeh will be a guest on Optimal Health Seekers Radio on April 22nd.
People who suffer from Ms understand the fact of having people help take care of them.