Imagine being suddenly assigned to an unpaid job you don’t feel trained for, but someone else’s survival depends on your performance. If you’re a caregiver, you may feel this way. According to the AARP’s “Caregiving in the U.S.” report, about 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult over 50 in 2015.
And being a caregiver can be stressful. You don’t have time to learn every aspect of the job, you’re always on the job, and you have few opportunities to consult with other people who could help. Caregiving can be an isolating job, and being physically present for your loved one at all times can make you feel trapped in your home. But it’s important to find a way to combat isolation and get support.
Why to Avoid Isolation
The pressure of being a full-time caregiver can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt. Jeannette Koijane, executive director of palliative care organization Kokua Mau, said that caregivers can even experience “anticipatory grief” as their loved one’s health deteriorates. It’s important for caregivers to take care of their own health, both mental and physical. Caregiver stress is detrimental to your own health. One in three caregivers report feelings of depression, according to Jennifer Sapp, gerontologist and caregiver support leader in Annapolis, Maryland. Caregiver stress often leads to other health issues, and even a higher mortality rate. One way to combat this stress is to reach out to others – other family members and caregiver support groups. This can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Get Help from Others
Whether it’s professional assistance from palliative care services or just a few hours of help from friends or family, it’s important to realize that you’re not in this alone. Palliative care services are not the same as hospice. While hospice services are available only for people suffering from terminal illnesses and have less than six months to live, palliative care can start any time after a patient’s diagnosis. Talk with a doctor or patient advocate and find out what services are available for you.
Another option is day programs. If your loved one isn’t able to spend time at home alone, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer adult day care programs, where you can drop your loved one off during the day. Even if you don’t need this service every day, you might be able to take advantage of it on a limited basis.
Find a Caregivers’ Group
Check locally to find out if your area has caregivers’ groups. Sometimes groups are sponsored by local governments, churches, or councils on aging. Some groups might be for general caregivers. Others might be specialized for caregivers providing care for someone with a specific condition; such as Parkinson’s, cancer, or dementia. Caregivers’ groups can provide emotional support and some offer training. Jennifer Sapp’s group in Annapolis, for example, provides “support and resources to caregivers.” The caregivers are able to share problems and help each other out with solutions and suggestions. Sometimes they’re just a shoulder to cry on.
Reach Out Online
If you live in a rural area, it might be hard to connect in person with a caregivers’ group. Internet-based services can help offer support, by connecting you with other caregivers in a virtual support group. They can also help you reconnect with friends and family. Research into virtual support has shown that it can help reduce feelings of isolation in caregivers. Even spending time online: connecting to others who share interests and hobbies unrelated to caregiving can help reduce feelings of isolation.