Caring for Caregivers

Representational Photo

A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, that is, the people who need help taking care of themselves. Examples include children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases, disabled persons, and so forth. Caregivers may be family members, health professionals, social workers, friends, etc. However, the most common type of caregiver is the family caregiver-someone who takes care of a family member without any pay.

Caregivers can also be professional, independent, private (who work on payment commensurate with their task), or informal volunteers. A primary caregiver is someone who’s shouldered with the responsibility of taking care of a friend or loved one who is no longer proficient to care for himself/herself. Primary caregivers may be caring for children, a senior family member, a spouse with some terminal illness, or any friend or family member who requires assistance with daily activities.

Assignments of caregivers can be as diverse as the requisites of the cared for. He ought to be practical with multitasking abilities. Physical help to care for senior loved ones includes help with daily tasks, personal care, preparing meals, running errands, and performing chores. Other duties include companionship, transportation to a health facility, or any recreation, medical management (including punctuality regarding medication), general health care which may include physiotherapy as well. It is not uncommon for elderly patients to struggle with day-to-day tasks. So it becomes part of the duty of a caregiver to avoid acts that could be reasonably foreseen to injure or harm the person. So he/she should be always attentive and keenly observant. He/she must appreciate the risks and take care to prevent them from any harm.

Care can be displayed by interacting and listening to the patient; being friendly, flexible, communicative, and having respect for the emotions of the patient. This will aid in confidence-building and, set in motion more intimate bonding with the person. Patience is the most important virtue that a caregiver can have in such a tough ball game. He needs to understand that the patient is not always in control of his/her actions. So caregivers should exhibit kindness, empathy, and compassion. He/she should be sensitive and caring with a cheery demeanour. All these attributes/virtues qualify for healthier outcomes.

Caregiving is a substantial responsibility as well as liability. Caregivers should be dependable, reliable, and trustworthy. We are all familiar with the caregiving/nurturing of a baby and, undeniably, this is an uphill but pleasing task as all parents may acknowledge. However, what happens when caregiving is needed anew in the life of a person following the cessation of the same (as the person had been savouring an independent existence for several years). There may be numerous circumstances wherein one has to face the calamities which tell upon one’s capabilities, and is to be helped out by some caretaker. In such state of affairs, the child-parent association can be said to have reborn. Though it doesn’t appear so hard a task, I suppose this renewal to be one of the most arduous toils. Many details and features are swapped since. Currently, the conditions are transformed in physical essence as well as psychologically and motivationally. Howsoever hard caregivers may strive; most often they lag behind in one facet or the other in dispensing their commitments. However, their role can neither be underestimated nor brushed aside. Their contribution is as crucial as the primary treating physician for the long-term management and amalgamation and integration of the patient into the family and the society.

Caregiver training/instruction is a very relevant aspect of this assignment-whether or not the job is being accomplished in the unerring direction. Maybe the caregiver is imparting his duty in such a fashion which in due course may not bear out to be productive; it can be a part of the rehabilitative protocol (e.g. technique of performing physiotherapy, provision of nutrition, or any other care). So some sort of training facility, at least, in the form of small booklets, pamphlets or short demonstrations or video clips may save someone’s bacon.

Mental preparedness for this devotion can’t be ignored. Any person who is not mentally occupied in a task cannot be expected to do justice. Caregivers should be time and again counselled regarding the exhausting endeavor they are carrying out. They ought to be assured that they are moving forward on the proper/right track and it is going to fetch the desired outcome. This may add to their obligation and dedication towards caregiving, and invigorate their conviction in the caregiving apparatus.

Challenges and Difficulties

Having said that, we focus so much on the patient that we often tend to overlook the caregivers; their emotions, feelings, needs, and so on. I mean to say that caregivers to need to care for. This sounds a little exaggeration in our scenario. But, it is a fact that lack of care/confidence building and appreciation of this working force may be one of the detrimental factors affecting the outcome of the goal. There can be a lot many challenges and difficulties which a caregiver faces. They often find less time for themselves and other family members. Personal care and privacy of the caregiver gets sacrificed at the altar of this heavenly task. Caregivers do many tasks and other activities of daily living when the patient is sleeping. Sleep deprivation may be another pressing factor that, along with emotional and physical stress, may lead to depression and isolation. The truth is that the patient wants/ expects more and more time and attention from a caregiver; however, bitter truth is that the caregiver is a human being with a lot of his/her own needs and limitations!

Caregivers too may suffer from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It typically results from a person neglecting their own physical and emotional health because they are focused on caring for an ill, injured, disabled one. Despite doing to the best of their abilities, caregivers may also suffer from burnout by feeling empowered. Caregiver burnout includes lack of energy, overwhelming fatigue, sleep problems, change in eating habits, weight gain/loss, withdrawal, neglecting one’s own physical needs, seclusion and mental disorders like depression.

Caring for Caregiver

Every employment/occupation has its perks which can be financial or otherwise. But, most of the caregivers in our setup are near relatives. So, it becomes a wage-less job done for one’s pleasure and satisfaction. But, if an allowance can be added to it in the form of acknowledgement, it can do wonders. Instead of being critical, they should be appreciated for what they are giving away. Caregivers entail physical and emotional support to cope with the stress of caring for an elderly person. Also, the caregiver should seek to grab some opportunities to share his challenges and difficulties with the persons in his care. This may in some sort lead to some ease in the duty. A reward in the form of a wide smile, a hug, a warm handshake can do sufficient to let them continue the task. This may work as a kick to boost motivation for the cause.

They should be taught to practice acceptance, embrace their caregiving as a choice way to show their love and intimacy, look for a silver lining, don’t let caregiving take over their life, focus on control over the situation, celebrate small victories like the healing of a small sore or a little improvement in some cognitive function; imagine how the loved one would respond if they were healthy.

They should be appreciated, allowed to give vent to their thoughts and feelings. Others ought to listen passionately to their viewpoint. Caring about their health and happiness cannot be underestimated. Encouragement and inspiration can be heralded by small activities like giving them some small gifts of their choices, asking about their day, talking to them for some time, discussing with them, proposing them a day off from the work, and so forth. Some recreational material may be made available so that they can spend some free time with that.

They also need adequate rest, let the other family members and friends help at times. Emotional support, recognition and understanding, and time to recharge are what essentially the caregiver needs.

Author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, SKIMS.