When you “give care” on a regular basis you become a “caregiver”. Caregiving today has, in many cases, been assumed by professional agencies that provide in-home nursing care, respite care, meal deliveries, and, in general, basic needs that can no longer be managed by an individual.  There are many factors that contribute to this need. Injuries, mental health diagnosis, aging, and physical deterioration associated with any of these conditions. Aside from professional agencies, however, is that vast majority of people who are caring for family members with the above mentioned conditions in their homes. Thus becoming a “twenty-four-seven” caregiver.

How do you decide “caregiving” is needed?  Some clues and warning signs fall into the following categories:
1. Give a hug.  Do you notice a feeling of weight loss?  Is there an unusual odor?  Do they feel more frail?
2. Scan through the mail. Are there unopened bills or personal mail?  Thank you letters from charities that need to be checked?
3.  Take a drive with them in their car.  Do you notice nicks or dents that are new?  Is there undue tension while driving or unsafe distraction?  Are there service lights on indicating a lack of maintenance of the vehicle?
4.  Inspect the food supply sources.  Are there expired food articles?  Is there a lack of food?  Is there evidence of no cooking taking place?
5.  Look around the living area.  In comparison to the usual atmosphere in their residence, do you see undue clutter, plants that have died, or animals needing care?
6.  Walk around outdoors.  Do you see lack of maintenance?  Are there newspapers laying around or mail that hasn’t been collected?

Once this assessment leads to special support or caregiving, what is the next step? Many of these things may be readily addressed by you and other family members or friends.  However, if this leads to 24 hour caregiving you may want to reach out to agencies such as Pima Council on Aging, Lutheran Social Services, or Interfaith Community Services all of which provide classes, training, and information.

There is another view to this picture, however, and that is caring for the caregiver! Caregivers are reported to have health problems almost twice as often as non-caregivers. Half of people in caregiving roles are spending 10 percent of their income on caregiving expenses creating financial hardships for them.  70% of caregivers suffer from depression, isolation, or both. And, last but not least, too many caregivers are not aware of the resources available to them for assistance.

Caregivers have a tendency to be so concerned and/or overwhelmed with the care and effort required from them on a daily basis, they literally do not notice their own mental and physical health is at risk. So what do you do?

Here are some suggestions:
1. Be your own best friend.  Take pride in what you are doing and accomplishing. Encourage and praise yourself.
2. Do not be shy in asking for help—a friend or family member may be able to step in for a while so you can have some alone time, do an errand, or pursue a hobby. Establish a scheduled intervention of this type so during your caregiving duties you
can look forward to this reprieve.  Respite care is available thru care agencies.
3. Be honest with your feelings and doubts—this is no time to be a martyr.
4. Educate yourself about the condition you are caring for.  The more you know, the less you are prone to second guessing and projecting undue fears.
5. Keep feelings of guilt at bay—you are not a miracle worker, be realistic about your capabilities.
6. Be open and honest with family members, friends, pastors, and office personnel in your church so people are knowledgeable about your situation.  None of them are mind readers!
7.  Keep in mind—when a caregiver does not take care of his or herself, it creates two people that need care instead of just one.

Some resources:

  • Letters from Madelyn—Chronicles of a Caregiver by Elaine Sanchez; a book that embraces the reality of aging, illness, caregiving, and proves that grace, humor, and faith transcend the needs accompanying difficult situations.
  • Pima Council on Aging (PCOA) at www.pcoa.org/family-caregivers/caregiver-training
  • 24/7 Alzheimer’s Helpline – 800-272-3900

Dani Kolsrud,  TVLC Mental Health Representative