Most people find it comforting to know that, as technology improves, more and more illnesses and conditions can be managed outside a hospital or nursing home setting, and that they can remain in their homes for a longer period of time. But with this new flexibility comes a host of additional demands on family caregivers. Caregivers often come to their work suddenly and with very little training, and can find their new role challenging and all-encompassing.
With 44 million people providing care to someone over the age of 50 in their home, the problems faced by these millions of family caregivers are reaching crisis proportions in our nation. You may know someone who is taking care of a family member. It may be your elderly neighbor, who is caring for a wife with dementia and can't get a good night's sleep but can't bear to move her to a nursing home. Or it may be a colleague who spends her lunch hours on the phone with her father's doctor. Or it may be you, who is trying to balance teenagers, work, and care for two elderly parents.
Many people don't even identify themselves as the family caregiver. They may say, "Yeah, my mom needs a little more help now," or "That's my husband, ever since his stroke I haven't left his side." But the reality is that someone else is dependent on them, and the care they provide allows that person to remain at home amidst familiar surroundings and routines.
As a family caregiver, you may feel weary, isolated or completely overwhelmed. Many caregivers neglect their own health -- missing their own doctor appointments, avoiding exercise, and eating on the run. They often feel that they don't have the time they need to move ahead in their jobs or engage in a hobby. Some caregivers live far from their family members and are trying to patch together professional care while carving out time from their own lives to visit in person. And many caregivers struggle with feelings of guilt that they're not doing enough.
It's no wonder that family caregivers have been found to be at higher risk for many health problems, such as stroke, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Many report chronic back pain from having to move their family members from the bed to a chair. And they miss work, skip vacations and suffer job-related worries.
The good news is that many family caregivers find solace in hearing the experiences of other caregivers. Indeed for many people, being a caregiver turns out to be an unexpected and rewarding time of life, one in which they develop close relationships with their care recipient and take pride in helping another live the life they want.
As Director of Family Caregiver Support at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, one of our nation's largest not-for-profit home- and community-based healthcare organizations, I am seeing greater and greater need to support family caregivers every day. What I hope to do with this blog is to provide resources and insights that help others navigate the challenges of caring for loved ones at home. I'm also hoping that you'll join me in sharing ideas and information, and that you'll ask questions that reflect your own experiences, both positive and negative. Together, we'll address many of the hard issues facing caregivers: getting the training to provide hands-on care, setting up support systems, finding respite, and communicating with health care professionals. Ideally, this will be a place where you'll feel welcome to share concerns, fears, solutions and inspirations.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you!