I feel so fortunate in my job to be able to interact with so many of you…caregivers for those I know as participants. I know from talking with you that many of you carry a heavy burden of care, single handedly providing for the needs of your loved one. I also know that many of you provide double, and even triple duty as caregivers…providing care not only to one person, but often many…a parent and your own children, a spouse and an adult child with physical or mental needs, not one parent but two, a parent and a spouse, and so on.

Statistics about caregiving abound. The National Center on Caregiving (www.caregiver.org) offers the following, with the caveat that estimates may vary widely among various sources based on definitions used:

    • 52 million informal and family caregivers provide care to someone aged 20+ who is ill or disabled.
    • 29.2 million family caregivers provide personal assistance to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or chronic illness.
    • 34 million adults (16% of population) provide care to adults 50+ years.
    • 8.9 million caregivers (20% of adult caregivers) care for someone 50+ years who have dementia.
    • 5.8 – 7 million people (family, friends and neighbors) provide care to persons 65+ who need assistance with everyday activities.
    • Unpaid family caregivers will likely continue to be the largest source of long-term care services in the U.S. and are estimated to reach 37 million caregivers by 2050, an increase of 85% from 2000.

What do we know about caregivers, other than the fact that they are an amazing group of selfless people: they are under an unbelievable amount of stress. Caregivers have significantly higher rates of illness than their non-caregiving counterparts. Their physical health and mental wellbeing can be tremendously compromised. Caregiving can also cause stress on family systems, employment systems, social systems, and more, which in turn causes more stress for the caregiver. It can be a vicious cycle that I assume most of you know well.

I don’t write this to add more to your stress. But rather to remind you that critical to your ability to provide care to a loved one is your ability to keep yourself healthy. And by healthy, I mean physically well AND emotionally well. As they tell you on the airplane, you must put your own oxygen mask on before you put one on someone else.

I know…I can hear you now…so much easier said than done. Don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. Try to look at each day…are you doing something each day that is good for you. Eating a good meal? Getting a bit of exercise? Talking with someone about something other than caregiving? Laughing? Finding joy in something? Start there, on the day to day level, and then look a little broader…when was the last time you saw the doctor, or dentist? Are you taking your medications as prescribed? Are you sleeping? Have you been to church, a ballgame, the mall, or the golf course? What makes you feel good, and how can you make that happen? It is ok to do those things for you. Actually, not just ok, but CRITICAL to your ability to provide good, long term care, to your loved one. Let go of the guilt and go!

I know…I hear you again…how can I possibly carve out that time for ME? It may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Consider taking a Daybreak day and spend it doing something fun instead of cleaning the house and grocery shopping. Consider adding an extra Daybreak day so you can have some time for yourself. Show your brother or sister this article and tell them you need them to step in so you can have a day off. Call a home care agency and have an aide come in. Take up that neighbor or friend who has asked repeatedly what he or she can do. It may not be simple, but you will be rewarded for making the effort.

Some local resources for caregiving can be found through the Frederick County Department of Aging, Caregiver Support Program: 301-600-6001. They offer, among many other things, a caregivers support group (for any caregiver) the last Wednesday of each month. We also have our support group for those caring for a loved one with dementia on the third Monday of each month. Getting together with other caregivers is a great way to relieve some stress. Please call me at the center to learn more about resources for caregivers. You are an amazing and inspiring group of people and we want to support you as best we can.

Christina Forbes, LGSW from the Daybreak Newsletter 6/2010