The term “caregiver” can take on many contexts depending on your loved one’s abilities, health, living arrangement and overall well-being. The term also means different things to different people. Some find their identity in being a “caregiver” and are empowered to embrace their role, while others are so overwhelmed with the sweeping responsibility of caring for a loved one that they experience caregiver fatigue.
Caregiving requires a profound dedication and personal commitment, and the reality is, it is a season of life that can be enormously rewarding, yet emotionally and physically exhausting.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are approximately 43.5 million caregivers providing unpaid care to an adult or child every year, with most (85%) providing care to a relative or loved one. The stats reveal that on average, family caregivers spend:
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Research suggests that caregiving often has negative effects on a person’s health and well-being, and that nearly half of caregivers (40%) report feeling that they are in a “high-burden” situation. Despite these facts, many family caregivers do not “practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior,” reporting:
Family caregivers are also at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The evidence is clear – for the health of the whole family, caregiving responsibilities should be shared.
With many different personalities and perspectives – and under stressful circumstances – how do family members share the responsibilities of caregiving? Luckily, there are fantastic resources available to help families align themselves and come together to support their loved one, and each other.
Share the Care™ (STC) is one such resource. This highly regarded guidebook comes with printable worksheets and can be used by caregivers and families as a “loving, pragmatic approach to caregiving that can succeed no matter what the challenge.”
The idea behind the STC model is to “organize a circle of care” for a loved one in need, relieve the burden and stress of the primary caregiver, and help to involve family and friends in the care process.
Roles and responsibilities can be divvied up to all members of the family (including children, grandchildren, siblings, spouses, etc.) and assigned to provide the following caregiving tasks:
Sharing caregiving responsibilities with family members can be a difficult road to navigate. How do you get everyone on the same page?
The AARP has published “A Caregiver’s Guide to Creating a Respite Care Plan,” which offers a step-by-step plan to assess your caregiving needs and get help from family and friends. The first step is to understand your needs, and the needs of your loved on. To do this, AARP suggests asking yourself these two questions:
Three hours off, twice a week? Twenty-four hours away from the house? A regular caregiver’s day (or night) out with your spouse or friends? A combination of the above?
Companionship? Meals? Light housekeeping? Personal care? List every job, large and small.
By understanding your needs and the needs of your loved one, you can create a game plan that involves other members of your family and allows each member to contribute without one person bearing the burden of all caregiving responsibilities.
The Family Caregiver Alliances suggests holding a family meeting to encourage family members to get on the same page and work cooperatively. After all, the more people participating in care, “the less alone a caregiver feels in his/her role,” and the more supported your loved one receiving care feels.
When planning a family meeting, communication is key and preparing an agenda will be helpful to keep everyone in the know. Allow each member to add topics of discussion or concerns to the agenda in advance. Agenda topics and tips may include:
Remember to circulate minutes from the meeting that capture the decisions made.
A successful family meeting needs compromise to be successful. Also, try to accept that not all issues will be resolved in one meeting. The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests trying to work toward respecting each others’ opinions and “consensus building.”
Providing care for a loved one can be an all-encompassing responsibility for a caregiver; however, by involving others and assigning caregiver roles for the entire family, you can relieve many of the stresses associated with caregiving.
How are caregiving roles defined in your family? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.