Care for the Caregivers

By Kevin Brown | Bio

In last week’s post, I defined a Caregiver as “any individual who willingly gives of themselves to improve the quality of life for another individual.” There are times when the responsibility of providing care weighs heavy upon Caregivers. When this giving of self, especially when it occurs over prolonged periods, leaves the Caregiver drained of energy and in need of care themselves, it is time to take a step back and look at what one’s own needs are.

So what can Caregivers focus on to take better care of themselves so that they can continue to care for others?  I suggest Caregivers need to satisfy themselves in the same areas of their lives as those that they focus attention on when caring for others. For example, while observing my wife care for her mother, I have noticed she concentrates on four key areas: healthcare, social contacts, family involvement, and a sense of worthiness or contribution.

Caregivers need to ensure that they themselves are maintaining their health. This includes getting sufficient rest, maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet, and engaging in regular exercise to keep both body and mind in good condition. For many family Caregivers, personal health is often the first thing to be sacrificed. We have all sorts of reasons and explanations as to why there simply is not enough time to exercise, get proper rest, and to eat well. But the bottom line is we simply must make it a priority to care for our health first, so that we are able to share of ourselves when caring for others.

Providing care for others is demanding and, depending on the degree of care provided, we may find ourselves reducing our own social activities. Maintaining our social networks meets a basic human need for fellowship. Getting out and being with other people not only ‘fills our own tank’, but also provides a release from the responsibility of caring for others (even if only for a couple of hours a week).          

Remaining connected with our families (or close friends) is important. We can end up sacrificing spending time with other family members (whether in person, on the phone over or the internet) in order to help the one who needs us most. This may affect those other relationships, and leave us with a feeling that we are carrying the caregiving responsibility alone. Consider looking for opportunities to involve other family members in the caregiving experience, and emphasize the benefits of having the person receiving care interact with as many family members as possible.

Maintaining a sense of our self-worth and contribution is central to our ability to generate new possibilities for ourselves and for others. Certainly those who are receiving care have a real need to be able to contribute and maintain their sense of worth. Going from a state of independence to one of increasing dependence can be difficult to experience…and difficult to accept. For the Caregiver, a healthy sense of worthiness and contribution is also essential. The challenge for the Caregiver can be in receiving contributions from the person receiving care—as well as from others. In our haste and determination to serve others, we need to acknowledge, appreciate and take advantage of the offers of support, assistance and recognition that come our way.

In today’s society, in my opinion, we just do not give enough recognition to those who choose to give of themselves to care for others. For me, there can be no nobler role than that of a Caregiver. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we held an annual event to encourage, support, and celebrate Caregivers for the contributions they make to the lives of those they care for and the to the communities in which they live? Imagine ‘Caring for the Caregivers’. What a concept!

© 2009 Kevin Brown. All rights reserved.