Caring for the Caregiver

Prairie Doc Perspective

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Every day in the clinic or hospital I meet extraordinary caregivers. They are the ones who have gone above and beyond the call of duty; sometimes for years at a time. When you ask them how they do it, they shrug and smile. I am not talking about any doctor, nurse, or therapist. I am referring to those who care for and look after their elderly friends and family members. This can be a spouse, adult child, adult grandchild, neighbor, or even a good friend.
There are many reasons that people volunteer to be caregivers. Spouses can often not imagine living apart from each other. Adult children and grandchildren may want to return the care that they were given growing up. Neighbors often have a relationship of caring that spans years. Whatever the reason, these people answered the call for help.
Those who have stepped up to care for another person deserve our praise and admiration. What they also need and deserve is our help and support. Caring for another person around the clock can be exhausting. Chronic health conditions, like dementia, incontinence issues, or balance issues, can further complicate that care. Caring for someone else can cause a strain in relationships between spouses, siblings, and extended family. I have seen caregivers ignore their own health and refuse admission to the hospital for themselves. They do this because they fear that there will be no one to care for their loved one if they are not there.
The responsibility for caring for another person can affect all aspects of life for the caregiver. Jobs, school, and vacations can be challenging when taking on a full time caregiving role. Even a trip to the grocery store is complicated when caring for someone who needs constant supervision to be safe. There are resources to help caregivers, but finding them can be difficult.
Many caregivers do not know where to look for help. Adult daycare or respite care for weekends or nights can be difficult to find or prohibitively expensive. There are several national organizations with resources such as AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, Family Caregiver Alliance, and the National Council on Aging. These organizations all have websites with great tips that can offer support for caregivers.
Do not forget to reach out to your family member’s primary care physician or clinic care coordinator. They may be able to help you reach out to local resources and support groups. Know that caregivers should never do this all alone. We want to help and support the care you give. The goal is keeping everyone happy, healthy and well cared for – including the caregiver. Thank you for all you do. How can we help?
Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc®, a medical Q&A show providing health information based on science, built on trust, streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.

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