Caregiver Support: You Are Not Alone

Boomer woman spends time in the kitchen with her elderly mother.A Place for Mom reports that 41.8 million Americans, most of them women, provide unpaid care for adults aged 50 and older. More than a quarter of those receiving such care have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, per AARP. Caregivers themselves also tend to be older, with an average age of 50.

The Role of a Caregiver

Caregiving involves helping an individual manage an illness, such as cancer, or a chronic condition, such as dementia. The role depends on the unique needs of the person and can encompass the following:

  • Helping with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing and dressing
  • Planning and preparing meals
  • Organizing or providing transportation to appointments
  • Working with family members and professionals to coordinate care
  • Attending doctor’s appointments and advocating for the patient’s interests
  • Giving and monitoring medications
  • Cleaning and household maintenance
  • Providing companionship and emotional support
  • Helping a person with mobility difficulties
  • Modifying the residence to make it accessible
  • Performing research to learn about the needs of the individual

The caregiver must adapt as their loved one’s needs or condition evolve. For instance, a cancer patient may need more help as the disease progresses. To respond to these changes, the caregiver may have to modify their routine. Meeting their loved ones’ dynamic needs can be a source of stress for caregivers.

The ‘Backbone’ of Long-Term Care

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes family caregivers as the backbone of long-term care. Taking care of someone with a chronic condition can help strengthen familial bonds and bring caregivers a sense of well-being and purpose.

Yet, caregiving can be challenging. The role can shape caregivers’ lives, affecting other relationships, employment, and health. The stress of balancing caregiving with personal responsibilities or responding to changes in their loved one’s condition can take a toll.

Challenges for Caregivers

As caregiving can be stressful, emotionally taxing, and time-consuming, caregivers can face several challenges.

Caregivers may neglect their own health as they support others. This puts them at heightened risk for chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Multiple chronic conditions affect 40.7 percent of caregivers, according to the CDC. Of those 65 and older, 53.4 percent have two or more chronic conditions. Approximately a third of caregivers have a disability.

Some research suggests that mental health is also a concern. Twenty-three percent of caregivers said that caregiving worsened their mental health, according to AARP. An AARP study revealed that half of caregivers experience increased emotional stress.

Support for Caregivers

For caregivers, it is essential to take care of themselves and connect with resources that give them support. Engaging in self-care, taking breaks, and finding support are strategies to help caregivers reduce stress and improve their health. Common ways caregivers manage stress include listening to music, talking to others, and exercising.

Support groups help caregivers connect with others and access resources. Joining a support group can alleviate stress as well as provide caregivers with practical tools.

Many support groups, including online and in-person options, are available. Local hospitals, religious organizations, universities, and senior centers can have opportunities.

Nationwide nonprofit Caregiver Action Network seeks to support all caregivers, including parents of children with disabilities and caretakers for veterans and people with dementia. In addition to offering free education, resources, and other tools, it has a help desk that connects individuals with support groups.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is another nonprofit organization striving to advocate for and educate people with mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder and depression, while also supporting their caregivers. Specially trained individuals facilitate group meetings for people with mental health conditions and for their family members and partners. Sessions last between 60 and 90 minutes; groups may meets monthly or weekly, depending on the location.

Disease-specific organizations also have support groups, including the following:

In-person support groups led by trained professionals are available across the United States.

Contacting a support group can be an important first step toward lessening the stress of caregiving. Support groups can help caregivers gain information, tools, and strategies. Members also benefit from a sense of community as they interact with others facing similar challenges.

You may also want to consult an elder law attorney for further guidance. They can assist you in planning for long-term care, drafting family caregiver agreements, or connecting you with other useful resources. Find an experienced elder law attorney near you today.