Caregivers are some of the most underserved individuals dealing with illness. Their loved one has a health crisis and suddenly they need to take responsibility or manage the household. A recent report from the Cancer Support Community says that nearly half of all caregivers experience substantial anxiety and feel unprepared.
Yet, the emotional and physical health of caregivers is seldom taken into account. We hear from caregivers that they cancel their own doctor appointments and social events because of their need to focus on their loved one. One woman shared that she had not had her teeth cleaned in two years!
Many people experience caring for their loved one as overwhelming and confusing. Caregivers want a better understanding of their loved ones medical condition, knowledge about treatment, or even prognosis. Learning medical terms can feel like learning a new language. Asking the best questions is often hard when you feel unprepared to coordinate care.
Caregivers: How You Can Access Resources
Access resources in your community to alleviate distress.
- Contact your loved one’s nurse or social worker.
- Utilize helpful web sites such as Cancer Care (www.cancercare.org), Cancer Support Community (www.cancersupportcommunity.org), or Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).
A psychologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering says that “the level of illness of the patient correlates with the level of physical exhaustion of the caregiver.” Accept help! After receiving help, one woman stated: “I could be my husband’s wife again and not his caregiver.”
We lose sight of the physical demands of caring for someone and in some cases resentments form. Watching someone close to you suffer is a heart-wrenching experience. Our desire to help or change the situation can be frustrating.
Finding Support is Critical
Support for the caregiver is essential. You need to feel able to cope yourself in order to be a support for your loved one. Some of the ways to cope are to:
- Set aside “me” time.
- Do accept offers of support and ask for help when you need it.
- Do something to relieve stress.
- Pay attention to your own mental and physical health.
- Connect with others who understand what you are experiencing.
Caring for someone you love can be a rewarding experience. Balancing your own emotional and physical health needs to be part of that experience.
Kathleen McBeth, PSYCH-MA, is a psychologist at the University of Vermont Cancer Center.