Many individuals rely on informal caregivers to prevent permanent placement in Nursing Facilities. Currently more than one quarter of the adult population provides care for chronically ill, disabled or aged family members or friends. Most caregivers have taken this role overnight and find themselves overwhelmed and unprepared for the tasks ahead, causing an increase in stress and fatigue associated with their caregiving duties.
However, during this time of increased strain and weariness one can also find moments of joy and a sense of increased satisfaction. Finding joy or satisfaction during a time of frustration, weariness, or grief, may seem out of place, however one will find that the ability to laugh has not disappeared and those moments of joy may appear unexpectantly to revitalize a weary caregiver.
Who are the Caregivers — Informal caregivers are the backbone of the American long-term care system. The phrase "informal caregiver" refers to individuals who provide unpaid assistance to those that have become incapacitated due to chronic or acute conditions. These informal caregivers offer assistance on a full or part-time basis and can be friends, family members, neighbors, or acquaintances.
Studies show that the person most likely to accept the informal caregiving role is a daughter or other female relative. These caregivers spend approximately 20 hours a week providing care, in addition to their other responsibilities at work and/or home.
Acknowledging the Strain of Caregiving — Juggling the demands of caregiving can be a challenge for anyone and can cause increased stress and anxiety. Some caregivers are unable or reluctant to acknowledge the strain associated with the many responsibilities and long hours of caregiving. By first acknowledging and identifying areas of stress or overwork caregivers can be better prepared to accept assistance, find solutions to meet their needs, and find opportunities for satisfaction in caregiving.
Finding Satisfaction in Caregiving — Creating and recognizing times of satisfaction, while caregiving, is an important part of the caregiving process. Moments of satisfaction and joy may renew caregivers from times of distress or crisis.
Here are some ways to help caregivers identify and develop satisfaction in their work:
- Acknowledge and take credit for the work done. Caregiving is not an easy role, but it vitally important to those family members or friends receiving care. Caregivers should value and take pride in the important service they provide.
- Accept the help when others offer assistance. It is not a sign of failure when assistance is needed. In fact, studies show that those that attempt to handle caregiving on their own often find themselves burned out, depressed, and resentful toward the person they care for. When others ask how they can assist, a caregiver can be prepared with a mental list of things that would be most helpful. By sharing the load a caregiver can reduce stress and increase satisfaction.
- Participate in a combination of support groups, respite care, and other caregiver services. Studies show that these services reduce stress and boost caregiver satisfaction. Being able to take small moments away or talk with others in similar circumstances replenishes a caregiver's energy and allows them the ability to continue caregiving.
- Look for satisfaction in the small successes. Caregivers often find they have mountains to climb everyday. Finding satisfaction in small steps can assist the caregiver in finding meaning or satisfaction along the journey. Here are a few examples:
- The mother with Alzheimer's who, at first, resisted attending an adult day care program now enjoys attending the program.
- The father, who wasn't taking medications properly, with the help of a caregiver, is now taking his medications correctly.
- The caregiver was successful in finally getting the grandmother to bath.
Success can come in many different ways; however, it is most important to recognize it when it does come.
- Be flexible. Caregiving offers many ups and downs. One of the best tools a caregiver can carry is the ability to be flexible and to do the best possible within a "less than perfect" situation. Developing the ability to be flexible will increase a caregiver's satisfaction, reduce the "small things" that prove to agitate, and open the door for many good moments.
- Allow for acceptance. Finding acceptance in the present, instead of being upset about the past or worried about the future is a useful tool for increased satisfaction. To make this process effective, caregivers can also work to forgive themselves and others for imperfections and mistakes made.
- Identify what you can and cannot change. Trying to change things that are not within one's sphere of influence serves to increase frustration and decrease satisfaction. Identifying what is in the sphere of control and what is not will assist the caregiver in prioritizing things they can control and letting go of the things they cannot.
- Be assertive with your own needs. Be assertive in expressing feelings, needs, and emotions. Practice using phrases such as, "I need" "I feel" "I prefer". This will assist a caregiver in getting their needs heard while they are helping to meet the needs of others.
- Affirm oneself and others. Accept and give compliments or praise often. Seeking and recognizing the positive can improve any situation. A positive attitude also leads to more enjoyment in life.
- Use humor. It is exactly in the difficult moments of caregiving that laughter can provide a moment of relief and rejuvenate an overwhelmed caregiver. Humor can also provide relief from feelings of grief, disappointment, and depression and allow for healing to begin. Finding humor in what sometimes can be a comedy of errors will be a gift to both the caregiver and the care receiver.
Caregiver Self-Care — One of the most vital things for caregivers is to find ways to meet their own needs. As caregivers find ways to meet their physical and emotional needs they are better able to provide care for others. Caregivers who are physically or emotionally unwell create and heighten environments of fatigue, stress, and crisis. Frequent exercise, proper nutrition, caregiver respite services, support groups, and other community services can assist in providing wellness and are some of the tools necessary for caregiver self-care.
Conclusion — Becoming a caregiver is a difficult role; however, it does not have to end the days of laugher, the days of joy, and the ability to share in the expression of affection. Take a moment to experience the good and remember that the sorrows may outnumber the joy, but the joy will always outweigh the sorrows.