When a loved one is stricken with cancer, or simply reaches the twilight years of life, it remains a common practice for family members to step forward and serve as caregivers. In many cases, adult children take time out of their lives to care for their elderly parents. For many adults, the decision to care for an aging or sick parent is natural. After all, it is our parents that cared for us when we were young. Now it is time to return the favor.
However, caring for a sick parent or family member is a difficult task. It takes both an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver. Not only do they exhaust themselves physically by assisting with daily chores or even providing long-distance medical transport, they also suffer the emotional trauma of watching a loved one deteriorate in front of them. There are countless resources and support groups for those suffering from diseases such as cancer, but there are few resources for the caregivers.
By the Numbers: Caregivers
While family members undoubtedly appreciate the services of caregivers, the role goes largely unnoticed by society. In the UK, for example, the numbers on caregiving are staggering:
- 1 in 8 adult Britons serve as caregivers, saving the government £119 billion in healthcare costs annually
- 45% of caregivers have given up on work to care for an ailing family member
- 61% of caregivers face depression as a result of their caregiving duties
- 49% struggle financially as a result of their caregiving role
Caring for the Caregivers
The physical and emotional toll on caregivers as a result of their duties is reversible, with proper support and resources. With some helpful tips and advice, the trend stress of caregiving can be relieved and everyone can lead a happier life while providing support and love to a family member suffering from cancer, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. Below, you’ll find a number of tips from the New Mexico Cancer Center that will help ease the burden of caregiving.
Knowledge is Power
Gathering information about the ups and downs that your family member will go through during the diagnosis and treatment of cancer will help establish expectations as a caregiver. You can start by learning about the specific cancer diagnosis your family member has received. This information should include the stage their cancer has progressed to, what the recommended treatment program is, and the side effects that your loved one may experience as a result of treatments and medications.
Prepare for a New Normal
One critical realization that both caregivers and patients alike must accept is that life will have a new normal following a diagnosis. Giving up your career and/or moving in with a family member to provide assistance shakes the foundations of your daily routine, adding different or new chores to your day and altering the responsibilities you have each week. This includes, but is not limited to, bathing your family member, taking control of their finances, and preparing meals for them.
Accept that the concept of a normal day is going to change and prepare to tackle these new roles. At the same time, avoid taking on more work than you can handle. Seek help from others, such as services that provide hot meals, to ease the burden and make it easier to transition to a new daily norm.
Take Time to Relax and Recharge
You are a caregiver, not Superman. You will get tired, rundown, and emotionally exhausted as a caregiver. No one expects you to perform superhuman feats as a caregiver. It is important that you recognize your limitations and admit when you need some rest. Find time during the day to take small breaks that allow you to refocus your mind, lower your stress levels, and recharge your energy levels. In the long run, make time in your schedule to step away from your duties and rejuvenate your mind and body. You’ll come back refreshed and better able to care for your loved one.
Establish a Support System
From the very first day you take on the role of caregiver, you’ll need the help of a support system to attend to your physical and emotional needs. Giving all of your energy to a family member or loved one is noble and helps ease them through this difficult period in life, but you need support too. Seek out the assistance of support groups that allow you to converse with others facing your same situation, attend faith-based communities, or make time to visit with your friends. Support systems can be organized or unofficial. The point is to ensure you have the support you need as a caregiver.
Guest Blogger: Michael Peat has a special place in his heart for caring for patients and has been in the Aero Medical field for the last 10 years. He is an active FAA Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) and licensed Emergency Medical Technician Intermediate (EMT-I). He is also a graduate of the Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan with a Bachelors degree in Business Management and Human Resources. Michael has been involved with several air medical operations over his career like Air Ambulance Network, Angel Med Flight Worldwide Air Ambulance Service, Air Trek Inc. and Res-Q-Jets.