CoffeeBreakYesterday, I was a co-presenter and the topic had to do with caregiving and finding the joy and humor in a very stressful activity.  Each presenter talked about the organization they worked with and how the organization meets the needs of their clients and caregivers.

Caregivers are heroes in my book.  Basically they have put their life on hold for a period of time to assist someone who is having difficulty negotiating everyday activities of life.  Sometimes the care recipient needs assistance for a short period, six weeks rehabilitating after surgery or traumatic life event, other care recipients require assistance for years with increasing level of assistance needs due to a medical condition that is characterized by deterioration.

I frequently find that long-term caregivers get lost in caregiving, their day never ends and to make things easier they neglect themselves.  Studies have reported that caregivers experience reduction in their immune system response and this suppression continues after that caregiving situation resolves.  In the Geriatric Clinics the Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, and I encourage caregivers to be selfish and engage in activities that refresh them, whether it is getting a manicure, having lunch with a friend, playing a round of golf, etc.

Frequently caregivers will report they cannot leave  their care recipient with someone else because: someone else cannot do the job as well as the caregiver does, the care recipient will not agree, there is no one they can contact for assistance, they do not have the finances to pay someone, etc.  Another issue is what happens if the caregiver becomes unable to provide care, what is the backup plan?

If there is a caregiver in your family or circle of friends and community, please recognize the them and arrange for a short break from their caregiving activities. If you know the care recipient maybe you can spend a couple of hours reading to, playing games with, looking through photo albums, baking cookies these are a few ideas that may help distract the care recipient from awareness that caregiver is away for a short while.

If you decide to do something with the caregiver arrange for a sitter to be present with the care recipient.  The sitter needs to be prepared to distract the care recipient with some of the ideas above, or maybe a student who needs to work on assignments or read while the care recipient naps.  The sitter is present to appropriately address any emergency that might arise.

You can also help them prepare a backup plan.  The plan should address immediate then longer time frames.  Example:  Caregiver is hospitalized with no notice, a call is placed to the person who knows who to notify for immediate needs, then the person who will need a couple of hours to make appropriate arrangements to be able to provide a few days of care and then the longer time frame person who may live in another state and might require a couple of days to make necessary arrangements.  Knowing that there is a plan to activate when something unexpected arises relieves stress.

Today’s Guest Blogger is Adele Herzfeld, LMSW. She is a Senior Social Worker at UTMB in Internal Medicine – Geriatrics.

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