Caregivers, care for yourself too


By AGENCY

Many family members would gladly take on a caregiving role for an ageing relative in need, but this can quickly lead to them neglecting their own needs and burning out, say experts. — Uwe Umstätter/Westend61/dpa

As populations age in many societies around the world, more caregiving is being provided by people who aren’t healthcare professionals.

Take Germany: Eighty percent of the approximately 4.1 million people who need permanent care receive it at home – mostly primarily from family members, official statistics show.

Caregiving can bring beautiful moments, but also a lot of stress.

Focused on tending to their loved one’s needs, caregivers often neglect their own wellbeing – sometimes with serious consequences.

”It’s not rare that caregivers subsequently need care themselves,” says Katrin Thiem, who heads a local German organisation specialising in old-age care.

Family members often want to care for loved ones as long as possible, and many have promised to look after one another, says Sa- bine Lohmann, a health resort adviser working with Thiem.

But some initially don’t realise just how consuming and stressful caregiving is, she notes.

Managing the task is foremost in their minds, usually to the detriment of their personal needs.

If the care situation isn’t acute at first, family members can more or less unconsciously slip into fulltime caregiving, points out health scientist Markus Kueffel, co-founder and co-manager of a Hamburg-based placement agency for caregivers.

“You take on more and more responsibilities,” he says.

“Maybe only shopping at first, and later helping out with personal hygiene.”

It’s the gradual nature of the process that often makes it difficult to draw the line, says Eva Asselmann, professor of personality psychology at the Health and Medical University in Potsdam, Germany.

“You should try to not lose sight of yourself and to be mindful of your own wellbeing,” she advises.

What’s more, you need to know that “professional caregiving is no job for amateurs”, says Kueffel, who has worked as a nurse specialist himself.

To realistically assess what you’re getting yourself into, you should gain a thorough overview of the care situation by drawing up a schedule or recording all of your work in a log book for a period of time.

“You’ve got to ask yourself how much time you can spare – and are willing to,” Kueffel says, adding that you should check the care plan with the person needing care.

“Most care recipients are also relieved if their loved ones’ load can be lightened somewhat.”

If you come to realise that you can’t provide the necessary care alone, you may have access to many advice and support options to help find a solution for your particular situation.

A good place to turn to right away are nursing care centres, which are familiar with what’s available in your community, can provide free advice, and also answer questions about payment, e.g. what costs may be covered by health and nursing care insurance.

There are various ways to ease your care burden, notes Lohmann.

You could hand over certain tasks to professional caregivers, thereby freeing up valuable time for yourself.

The care-dependent person could be taken to a care facility for one or two days a week.

Or the person could spend some time in a short-term nursing home.

If the person insists on remaining at home, you could hire a healthcare aide.

Or you could get assistance from an ambulatory care service.

Trying to do too much yourself puts you at risk of burnout.

“It’s a paradox,” Prof Asselmann remarks.

“The more you’ve got to do, the more important – but also harder – it is to take some respite.”

This is why it’s a good idea to seek help proactively and be open to enlisting assistance from people close to you, she says.

You could also farm out tasks unrelated to caregiving, such as hiring a housecleaner or getting your partner more involved.

In practice, caregiving family members often don’t seek help until they’re exhausted and at wit’s end.

“Despite migraines, back pain, insomnia and other psychosomatic disorders, many caregivers need a nudge (before they seek help),” remarks Thiem, who says it’s perfectly alright to show weakness.

“Many caregivers don’t see what an enormous amount of work they do day in and day out.”

To gain a new perspective on your daily life and find lasting relief, it often helps to look at your situation from a distance. – By Vera Kraft/dpa

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Caregiving , burnout , senior health

   

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