There are presently more than 90 million Americans who care for family members, friends, or loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or frailties of old age, according to the Caregiver Action Network. Caregivers put others needs above their own on a daily basis, ensuring their loved ones live a comfortable and healthy life.
Why Caregiving is a Difficult Job
Caring for someone that has Alzheimer’s, dementia or a chronic or terminal illness can be one of the most difficult roles that a person can take on. Even if they utilize respite care resources, caregivers are never truly off the clock. When someone you love and care about, and ultimately may be responsible for, suffers from a chronic illness you’re always thinking about them. Questions are constantly moving through your mind — What can I do to make them more comfortable? What doctor’s appointments do they have? Have they taken the correct medications today?
Caregivers tend to put their own needs at the bottom of the list. This is just one reason why Caregiver’s Awareness Month was developed. “Caregiving can be a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job,” states the Caregiver Action Network, which spearheads National Family Caregivers Month. “Providing care around the clock can crowd out other important areas of life.”
Caregiving for an Alzheimer’s Patient
Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Many family members step into this role during the early to middle stages of the disease. This can be one of the most challenging diseases for caregivers to work with. Patients can have a range of symptoms, including anger, suspicion, agitation or memory failure (to name a few). It’s quite draining and unpredictable on a daily basis, yet some 15 million caregivers provide unpaid care to a person living with either Alzheimer’s or dementia. Their hard work and dedication allow patients to live a somewhat normal life in their own homes for as long as possible.
The Toll of Caregiving
Many don’t realize the amount of work – physical, mental, and emotional – that caregivers do on a daily basis. In some cases, caregivers help patients with mobility needs, such as standing up from a seated position or moving from a bed to a wheelchair. Physical demands even extend to lifting patients in and out a bathtub or assisting them when they use a walker. This can cause strains on a caregiver’s body and lead to exhaustion, sometimes making the caregiver more run down and susceptible to getting sick. In some cases, the physical demand can even lead to injuries.
On top of this, caregivers must maintain their own separate lives. They have relationships with significant others to nurture, or school-aged children to take care of. They could even be trying to juggle a job around their caregiving hours, relying on respite care or home health aides during work hours.
Catering to Specialized and Complex Needs
A caregiver might also manage the nutritional needs of their loved one. In some instances, this can mean a specialized diet that requires planning and preparation. Caregivers are often responsible for administering complex medication schedules.
Alzheimer’s and dementia patients tend to have trouble sleeping. In addition to early wake-ups and disturbances throughout the night, caregivers have to carefully watch their loved one, ensuring that they stay safe. Many Alzheimer’s patients tend to wander and may not realize the danger they put themselves in.
Management of Daily Tasks
In addition to taking care of a patient’s physical needs and managing medications, there are also basic daily life management tasks that a caregiver has to take over— paying bills, managing insurance issues, scheduling and commuting to and from medical appointments.
Financial matters can be extremely stressful to manage, especially if other family members are involved. It’s a common situation for a son or daughter to take on caregiving for a parent and have siblings that may not agree with the decisions or choices they’re making. This can drive a wedge between family members or lead to severe resentment and frustration.
Celebrate and Recognize the Unique Efforts of Caregivers
One of the biggest concerns regarding caregivers is the fact that they tend to put their own needs at the bottom of their list while prioritizing the needs of their family members first. Caregivers forgo self-care, which often results in illness or burnout. While there are initiatives that remind caregivers to take care of themselves first, or they won’t be able to take care of their loved ones, it’s challenging to balance.
Caregivers sacrifice their needs, desires and personal lives for the benefit of those they care for. Which is why at Vineyard Henderson, we take the month of November to recognize, honor and celebrate their genuinely valuable work. Hopefully, we can bring awareness to this difficult (and often unpaid) job that 90 million Americans selflessly do each year.