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Caregiver Support is Expanding Nationally: Find Resources to Help Yourself

Woman caregiver for older man using wheelchair
August 30, 2018
Lily Moran

It’s a scene all too familiar among Baby Boomers – caring for family member in your home. In fact, more than 34 million people have cared for adults over the age 50 in their home in the past 12 months. And that number is growing by the day.

Largely, it’s a good thing. Those who need daily medical care are getting it from people they love and trust. Meanwhile, they are spending more time with their children, grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren.

For the caregiver, though, the physical and emotional burdens can be overwhelming. But, if you’re a caregiver, you’ll be relieved to learn that the number of resources available to you is growing, too. Read on to learn a handful of fresh ideas to help you help others… and help yourself too.

The Value of In-Home Care

The value of in-home caregivers cannot be understated. As of 2013, the services provided by unpaid caregivers had an economic value of $470 billion. That number exceeded the amount of total Medicaid spending that year!

Sounds like a big economic savings for our economy, right? Not for the caregivers, though. That $470 billion comes out of their pocket in various ways—missed work and income, extra groceries, higher utilities, home renovations to accommodate their loved one, and the countless hours spent caring for them, running errands, and just being with them.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

As a caregiver, your responsibilities are daunting and made all the more difficult with little financial assistance, a prior lack of medical knowledge, and the loss of your own social life. Research shows that the more you help a loved one, the greater danger it is to your own health.

Who’s looking after you?

Can Big Brother Help You Care for a Loved One?

Federal and state governments are finally recognizing the need to comprehensively support family caregivers.

A bipartisan law – The RAISE Family Care Act – signed in January 2018 requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to set up a caregiver advisory council, which will then develop a blueprint to address the wide array of needs of unpaid family caregivers.

But let’s be honest, it’ll take years for this advisory council to take shape, develop ideas, and impart these ideas and their guidelines to the 50 states. I’m not holding my breath for it and neither should you.

Thankfully, 43 states (and the District of Columbia) have already passed their own laws requiring hospitals and nursing facilities to help train family caregivers and register them as their loved one’s caregiver when patients are admitted to or released from a hospital or nursing home. These training programs are effective in reducing the stress on the caregivers as well as reducing the patients’ readmission rate to hospital.

Many programs focus on the entire transition process – not just a patient’s transition from the hospital to your home but also your transition from child/sibling/spouse to primary caregiver. The changing of these roles drastically changes the dynamics of your relationship with the patient and some people are not prepared for it at the drop of a hat (or the breaking of a hip bone).

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One such program, the Denver-based Care Transitions Interventions Program (CTI), trains regional coaches—often social workers—to help caregivers with these transitions. Hospitals then hire these social workers to provide coaching sessions in the caregiver’s home. They help break down the medical jargon, develop a care plan for their loved one, and instill the confidence in the caregiver to execute the care plan. In addition, they follow-up with caregivers several times over the phone to answer questions and provide support.

Finding these programs isn’t as easy as finding the nearest McDonalds. But they are out there. They are usually backed by local hospitals, nursing facilities, non-profits, senior advocate groups such as AARP, and even county government entities tasked with investigation allegations of mistreatment of the elderly.

A simple phone call to any of them is a great way to get started.

What Can You Do for You?

Any time you take a flight you are given instructions for emergency procedures. For example, if the oxygen masks fall, you’re told to put yours on first and then assist others. The larger point being that you aren’t much help to others if you can’t breathe.

That anecdote perfectly applies to being a family caregiver. You can only take care of others as well as you take care of yourself. But research shows that family caregivers are actually less likely to practice preventative care and self-care, compromising their ability to care for loved ones.

Caregivers are less likely to get enough sleep, exercise, eat a healthy diet, and make necessary medical appointments for themselves. All the while, family caregivers have an increased risk for depression and excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs (possibly even the medications prescribed to their loved ones).

Caregivers are also more likely than non-caregivers to have a chronic illness such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. Researchers also found that family caregivers are twice as likely as other adults to have emotional or physical problems.

So what can you do for you? The concept of self-care is as diverse as the 34 million family caregivers out there. Every person has their own needs.

The Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) suggests a personalized approach. And step number 1 is to identify the barriers getting in your way of caring for yourself. Often these barriers are the construction of your mind, not reality. Asking the following questions to yourself can break down these barriers:

  • Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first?
  • Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about?
  • Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help? Do you feel inadequate receiving help?
  • Do you feel that you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient’s affection? Do you do too much as a result?

From there, the FCA has eight very simple and effective tools to care for yourself.

  • Tool #1: Reducing Personal Stress
  • Tool #2: Setting Goals
  • Tool #3: Seeking Solutions
  • Tool #4: Communicating Constructively
  • Tool #5: Asking for and Accepting Help
  • Tool #6: Talking to the Physician
  • Tool #7: Starting to Exercise
  • Tool #8: Learning from Our Emotions

I encourage you to read the FCA’s tips on how, when, and why you should use these tools. There are a lot of things on that list that even I wouldn’t have thought of myself.

Getting What You Need and Deserve

I truly believe that family caregivers are a vital – if not the most important – component to our country’s senior health care system. If you are caring for a loved one in your home, you deserve far more than kudos.

You need and deserve resources to help take care of your loved one and yourself. There are a number of resources available to you in your community and online. I encourage you to seek them out. Doing so will benefit you but also the person you are caring for.

References

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