Often the unsung heroes, a primary caregiver battles in the front line of healthcare. If his/her physical and mental health needs are not met, the strain on the entire healthcare system increases.
The role of a primary caregiver is so important that advocacy groups such as nurses and social workers have helped convince policymakers that care giving is a major public health issue. So while the greater medical profession understands the crucial role it plays, often on a day-to-day basis the caregivers receive little or no support.
These people often have no choice. A close family member becomes ill, has an accident with long-term effects or becomes elderly and housebound. They cannot afford paid in-home help.
So, when a medical professional sees the patient, should he/she examine the caregiver, too?
Unsurprisingly, depression is the most common ailment of a primary caregiver. A study entitled Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Care giving found that two types of patient suffering—emotional and existential distress—were significantly associated with caregiver depression. Anti-depressants are often a successful treatment, yet it still doesn’t get to the root of the problem – isolation and the loss of independence.
Professional healthcare specialists can help caregivers in a number of ways. The most obvious: ask them if they are eating properly. Remind them that exercise is important for general wellbeing. Encourage them to enlist friends and family members to have “time off.”
If they already haven’t joined a caregiver community, make them aware of websites such as Stories for Caregivers and the Family Caregiver Alliance, which act as a support forum and educational hub. These sites can bring an individual out of a state of isolation and allow him/her to feel that he/she is once again part of society. They also have a number of tools such as webinars and videos that can make the caregiver’s job easier.
It may be worth reminding the caregivers that they have learned new skills and possibly have strengthened family relationships. No matter how difficult the situation, the act of “giving” can help people to feel good about themselves. One study found that caregivers who provided support to their spouses had lower five-year mortality rates than those who didn’t.
The very act of acknowledging the role that individual caregivers play, however, and reminding them that they need to take care of themselves is, in itself, a welcome and recuperative undertaking.
What do you think?