Caretakers: Silent Heroes Who May Need Help Sharing the Burden

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Caretakers come in all sizes, shapes, genders and ethnicities.

Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: Caretakers usually are not prepared for their new role since it often arrives unexpectedly and can become all-consuming.

Because of their devotion, commitment and self-sacrifice, caretakers are silent heroes.

There are few moments of respite in the life of the caretaker. Caretaking may become a full-time job, limiting free time and causing feelings of severe loneliness. The caretaker’s life undergoes a dramatic transition and it is not unusual to feel alienated from friends and family.

Simply put, the caregiver may feel that she doesn’t have a place in the world as support from friends and family often dissipates.

While trying to balance this new role, many personal sacrifices may occur, including loss of career and personal interests. The caretaker may often find it difficult to juggle her new responsibilities since caregiving can be an overwhelming responsibility. Between scheduling doctor’s appointments, paying bills and coordinating everyday care for their loved one, the caretaker’s physical and psychological health is often sacrificed. Anxiety and depression are common, as are feelings of guilt and anger.

When it comes to finding help, many caretakers do not know where to turn. Quality resources can be difficult to find, and the decision-making process can be overwhelming. Without the knowledge of where to turn, it can be hard to access the support needed. Many caretakers often feel solely responsible for caring for their loved one and may not feel that anyone else can provide the same type of high-quality personalized care.

However, there are steps caretakers can take to reduce or balance their responsibilities while ensuring that their loved one receives needed care.

One step to help ease the burden of caregiving is to involve others in the care and coordination of the loved one’s life.

This may involve using outside agencies, or friends or family. The hardest first step is to accept that extra support is needed and that it is OK to receive help. It is often helpful to speak with trusted friends, a qualified home care company or with an advocate or qualified senior care resource. And it can help to speak with a trained psychologist or therapist since the caregiver needs an outlet to express their feelings.

Caregivers can receive comprehensive qualified information from various free phone referral and advice services throughout the area.

Consider using an adult day care provider. This service will give the caregiver some free time to perform other tasks, work, receive personal medical or psychological care, or just have some personal time. Adult day care can benefit your loved one as well by providing socialization and medical coordination.

The good news is that there is help out there.

Caretakers should let family members and friends know what kind of assistance they need. It’s possible the situation isn’t fully understood by others.

Online resources include the Alzheimer’s Association, Today’s Caregiver, CaringBridge and Abramson Care Advisors.

Support groups can also be helpful. This can be a caring environment where caretakers can gain valuable information from the group leader, from other caretakers in similar situations, and also listen to guest speakers. It is important for the caregiver to determine if a support group is appropriate for them. The best way to know is to attend a meeting and assess the dynamics of the group and the quality of the leadership.

Word of mouth is one of the best resources in locating support groups.

Consider resources that can provide a break from caregiving. This can include home care companies, organizations that provide respite care and, as mentioned previously, adult day care services, which can be valuable to both the caregiver and senior. There are also programs where caregivers and their loved ones can participate together. And consider past activities that were enjoyed together including visiting friends and family, listening to music, or watching television.

Caregivers need to be acknowledged by family and friends for their dedication and commitment. There is no need to remain silent since there are many resources available.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.