Many caregivers find themselves in the role of their lifetime. They enjoy the sense of purpose and fulfillment that caring for a senior loved one gives them.
Sometimes, however, we could all use a little help from our friends (or even strangers!).
You may feel that your caregiving responsibilities can be more than you can physically or emotionally handle on some days.
You wonder why the relationship with the person for whom you care has changed.
You are now their protector or fixer instead of partner.
Caregiving can also change your family dynamics. Challenges and support can turn frustrating when everyone doesn’t agree on a plan. How can you handle all these issues?
Support groups have been filling that gap for many people who are family caregivers. Usually the support group is structured, often follows a particular disease process such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, and meets in person or online.
Some states have programs in place that help family caregivers with services and other support, but that is typically not quite the same as talking with others who walk in your shoes every day. These people are invaluable to helping you understand and really feel that you are not alone. What you as a caregiver experience is felt by others too and they might have some ideas to make things a little bit better.
Family Caregiver Facts & Figures
To understand the incredible importance of support that is needed, let’s talk a little bit about family caregivers and some of the situations and concerns that arise.
- There are an estimated 42 million Americans who currently care for older adults and that will continue to grow rapidly.
- 58% of family caregivers have a job outside the home.
- A new study reveals that 42% of adults report to being an unpaid caregiver for seniors in the past five years.
- The same study reports that 46% of family caregivers estimate they have spent more than $5,000 a year on related expenses.
- 55% of family caregivers have reported feeling overwhelmed.
- 50% of family caregivers report being stressed.
- Depression is common for family caregivers who are juggling daily tasks, jobs, families and senior loved ones’ needs.
- Caregivers often show symptoms of burnout when overwhelmed including sleeplessness, anger, health problems, depression, tearfulness, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and irritability. They often put their own health last and don’t get the medical treatment and preventive medicine they need to stay healthy.
We talk a lot about numbers to show you’re not alone but it’s important to remember that each family caregiver is a unique individual.
Benefits of a Support Group
There are a variety of ways caregivers can benefit from support groups. These are some we suggest.
- Learn more about the disease process, current treatments, future innovations and strategies for caregiving from experts within the organization. This might help you deal with healthcare providers more confidently.
- Manage stress as a caregiver.
- Gives you a break from your duties, getting you away from your senior loved one even for 30-60 minutes can allow for a mental and emotional break.
- Get a physical rest break from caregiving. Attending a support group can give you a few moments to sit quietly without running off to do something that needs done.
- Learn from other people who know what you are going through and can empathize with you.
- Learn new skills to be a better caregiver. Many support groups include speakers and classes as part of the program that can teach you a new trick or two.
- Make lifelong friends.
- Give you an identity separate from “John’s wife” or “Jane’s daughter”. Losing your own identity when you are a long term caregiver is a real threat and one that is harder to overcome when the caregiving ends if it is not maintained along the way.
- Led by knowledgeable facilitators who understand the issues you face. Support groups sponsored by organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and also funded by your state’s Department of Aging or United Way are often led by their trained individuals.
- Many online support groups including forums, online support groups, secure chat rooms and twitter chats allow you the flexibility to connect from home. There are even support and counseling services available over the phone when you need help!
- Become an advocate for your senior loved one!
- Learn techniques to keep you safe! You might learn safe transfers, how to diffuse aggression, how to deal with difficult behaviors, how to prevent the spread of infection or how to prevent sundowning from your support group experts.
Supporting & Helping Other Caregivers
During and especially after we are fulfilling the role as caregiver to our senior loved ones is a great time to share you expertise, experiences and emotional support with others who are where you have been.
If you are experiencing an aftercare transition, you could reach out to others and provide them with respite care. You could offer to help with household tasks, grocery shopping, companionship or something with which you are skilled.
Become a friend to another person who is currently a caregiver. Support them emotionally. Take them to lunch if they can go. Remind them how well they are doing and what an important thing they are doing by being a caregiver. We all need a pat on the back from time to time.
Send letters of encouragement and friendship to others in your support group if visiting is too difficult for all involved. A rosy card and words of comfort will definitely be welcome.
Start a group in your area if there is not one local that could meet the needs of other caregivers. Encourage faith based communities to build outreach programs to meet the spiritual needs of caregivers.
Did you know there was a Caregiver’s Bill of Rights by Jo Horne that you can share with others? It is very inspirational and would be nice to give other caregivers when they need it most.
Say yes when another caregiver needs something. Help them build a network of caring people who can help in times of need.
Take a caregiver in your network a special meal or other food treats to help them maintain their strength for caregiving. You know only too well that caregivers often are the last ones to eat, may eat the leftovers or grab something quick that isn’t nutritionally adequate to keep them well.
Be a listener to another caregiver. You needed one and now you can be one.
Being a caregiver can be an isolating experience for any caregiver. There are things you can do to reduce your load and reach out to others. No one will understand what you are going through better than another caregiver!
When you have an opportunity to pay it forward to others, you will because you care!