Caregiving is Growing - How You Can Be of Greatest Benefit

by Dr. Joan Vernikos
Giving care is the most noble form of human compassion. Yet it is necessary for the survival of a society, a  need that makes a society work. It fulfills the emotional requirement of giving and receiving, interdependence, generating or strengthening personal bonds. It taps into the instincts of love and nurturing; brings out the best in being human.

However, maintaining the balance between caring for others and sacrifice is a delicate one. It can quickly turn negative; it may take its toll physically and emotionally on the giver as well as those that surround them.  Excessive, unmanaged stress tips the balance. The key word here is balance. In trying to put together a set of guiding principles for effective and satisfying care-giving what struck me was the enormity of the task because every situation is different. Achieving balance begins with learning, understanding, assessing and being prepared.

As the number of those requiring care increases the social, personal and financial impacts of care giving will need to be better addressed, just as the need for child care became accepted and recognized as a social responsibility when working practices changed as women entered the workplace.

Who is a Caregiver?
Anyone who is concerned or cares for another individual or living thing. It begins with children, brothers, sisters or even pets. It includes parents, a husband, partner or wife, friends and neighbors. Professionals like nurses and doctors may be paid for care-giving. Becoming a doctor has been considered a vocation for centuries whether one is paid or not. Florence Nightingale drew attention to this fact when nursing was recognized as a profession.

Stress and Burnout?
Caring for others involves expending tremendous amounts of time and energy. That energy can be physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Usually all of those modalities are involved when you care for others. If you expend more time and energy caring for others, eventually you will find yourself feeling completely overwhelmed. Burnout, the next step, can occur when you give more of yourself than you are taking in, It is more likely to happen when you are pulled in different directions outside your care-giving, criticized or not supported by family and friends.

Guilt: Feeling Selfish
It is common to neglect yourself when caring for others. I like the example of flying on a plane that experiences sudden oxygen loss. The instructions to adults are to place the oxygen mask on your-self FIRST, and then place the mask on the child next to you. The idea is, if you give oxygen to the child first, you will lose consciousness and be of no help to the child. The idea is the same. When you are caring for an individual but neglect yourself, you may reach a point where you are really not able to care effectively for the other person. Though we think of care-giving mostly in the sense of caring for a parent, caring for a disabled child can also be all-consuming. Though professional caregivers, you would think, do not have the added emotional load that caring for a family member does, they frequently have a difficult time dissociating their emotions from their care giving job.

Self-care: Manage your time, Take Time Outs
Taking time for yourself will have great energy rewards. You will feel better. You will be able to give better care to those you are caring for. Regular time-outs can take two forms. The same paid help at regular intervals, as for example every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, allows you to plan your errands, appointments or some social activity. Agreeing with the care-receiver to go to a facility for two to six weeks to allow you to take a holiday. At other times, take a walk or a bike ride. Get a massage, meditate, learn to breathe to relax. What do you do for yourself? Taking a Health Assessment inventory will allow you to monitor where the energy leaks are. Do not sacrifice your sleep habits, nutrition and movement.

It’s a Team Effort
•    The Care-receiver
Care-giving is limited at best without the cooperation and motivation of the care receiver. Before starting make sure you sit down and have a heart to heart talk alone with your care-receiver. Honestly define your and their expectations. Many seniors used to being in charge and independent feel a loss of dignity when they find themselves on the receiving side.  For others, decisions made for them allows them to complain. Explain the options available to each of you, your and their expectations, and how working together and communicating openly can bring about the best results.
•    Family or Others Responsible for the Care
Whether you are a professional caregiver in an Assisted Living Facility, part of a growing At Home Care team or an ICU nurse, you will experience a similar pattern of physical and emotional responses as the amateur family-member.
•    Public Resources
Know your resources – whether they are free or not, identify what helps others most and when you can get help when you need it. Most work environments have employee assistance programs. Use them. Do your market research, ask others. Almost every family has some case of care-giving and most have had to find out the hard way.

Today people are living longer but are not necessarily healthier. The need for giving care to these older persons will continue to grow. More and more of us will be significantly involved in the giving of care in some manner. When greater attention is paid to the well being of everyone involved, and beneficial resources are more wisely used, the caregiving itself can be a more rewarding experience for all.