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The Family Caregiver: A Multifaceted Role

Understanding the benefits and stressors of being a caregiver to one’s own family member.

Family members play a major role in supporting elderly patients—they not only fulfil the emotional and psychological requirements of the patient, but also liaison with the health practitioners. There’s a level of comfort that makes it possible to ease into the caregiver position, and many people even report a deeper bond with the care recipient. It can even boost their own confidence, allowing them to have more faith in their own abilities, help them develop new skills and handle difficult situations better, and there’s an undisputed level of faith that since one is administering the care themselves, it can be trusted. The role of the caregiver has been filled by family members for years now, there isn’t anything new there; but the intensity and duration of that care have both changed, as have the methods of administering it, the latter involving more and more technical expertise.

Serving as a caregiver for a family member comes with its own set of complexities, and when a patient’s condition worsens, the need for consistent caregiving increases, taking a toll on one’s own lifestyle and health. There is growing evidence to support the health problems caregivers themselves endure, and with the physical and psychological exertion over a long time—both of which can be sporadic and out of one’s control—it has been termed as a ‘chronic stress experience’ by publications like the American Journal of Nursing. Psychologically, a 2020 report in the Annual Review of Psychology finds that caregivers are more prone to experiencing depression, lack of sleep and anxiety, which can be tied to the care recipient’s health progress. This could also stem from conflict between the caregiver and recipient over the sudden change in roles, especially between parents and children. In the same vein, patients with Alzheimer’s or advanced dementia, or those who have just suffered a stroke, often showcase emotional responses that can be tough to deal with. And, if one has a full-time job, or any other responsibility, it can lead to additional stress on that front due to the need to balance many things, and these other facets of life can get ignored or neglected. Physically, since caregiving is an intensive task to undertake, it can lead to one sacrificing their own health; this could look like forgetting to eat their own meals, forgetting to partake in some form of physical activity, etc. In time, this leads to health issues of its own.

It’s important for family caregivers to take note of these changes, which can often show up in subtle ways as caregiving is a long process. While the positive effects of caregiving can mitigate the negative ones, there are some things to take note of:

Delegate: Whether it’s by leaning on other family members or getting part-time/full-time help, it’s vital to understand that one doesn’t have to handle these situations alone and there are reliable resources to get support from. In fact, seeking help can streamline a lot of the processes and reduce the burden of stress.

Reprioritise your health: Many people put their requirements second when they step into a caregiver’s shoes and by doing so, they compromise both their own health and the care recipient’s.

Know your limits: While caregiving is fuelled by love for one’s family, it may become too much to handle—and those feelings are valid and don’t change the relationship between the caregiver and recipient. Expressing one’s limits is important, and then finding long-term solutions is the next step.

Have a contingency plan: Caregiving is a role that keeps evolving, so before stepping into it, it’s advised that one discusses the plan with all family members. While the situation will differ from family to family, it is important to have a plan in place for calling in professional help—a plan that everyone in the family is on board with so as to avoid any conflict or crises later.

At Seva At Home, we produce a wealth of free health information to help elders live healthier, happier lives. This has been produced by independent research carried out by the Seva At Home team. This information is not a replacement for medical advice. Please consult your physician for relevant medical diagnosis and advice.

To learn more about our home care services in India, contact our caregiving team today at +1 (603) 718-4828 if you are based in North America, or at 1800-120-800-003 if you are based in India.

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