Caring For Caregivers

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“The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its greatest significance”

                   – Pablo Casals

With the advent of improved medical care in the form of better treatment modalities, nutrition and rehabilitation, life expectancy has experienced a sharp upswing in the past two decades. This is however fraught with its own problems because as the world greys, the question of caring for the greying arises. 

Caregiving has now become an important part of many people’s lives. Increased longevity has played host to several diseases which require long-term rather than institutionalized care, prominent examples being dementia, Alzheimer`s disease and various malignancies.

While home-based care may be given by trained professionals like nurses and paramedics, more often than not, it is a family member who is roped in for the task. Nowhere in the world is this truer than in India where caring for the elderly and infirm in one’s family is considered a primary filial duty and assumes God-like characteristics and proportions. While most caregivers perform their tasks out of love and familial bonding, the fact remains that caregiving can be quite onerous especially if performed over a long period of time.

With the advent of the pandemic, which so far has shown no signs of abating, caregiving coupled with isolation has dealt a double-whammy to the population at large. With routine facilities like hospitals or healthcare worker visits becoming difficult, caregivers have had to rise to the challenge and deal with arising complications on their own with help only being available in the form of online consultations or instructions received over the phone.

PROBLEMS FACED BY CAREGIVERS

While caring for a loved one at home is most times a personal decision, it can also be driven by the financial health of the patient and his/her family. Though the cost of health care in India is touted to be amongst the cheapest in the world, long term institutional care is sometimes not feasible due to the paucity of such institutions and the sheer volume of patients seeking care. Thus, home-based care often becomes the go-to solution.

Well-meaning advice is often given to caregivers asking them to ‘care for themselves first’, but this is easier said than done. Caregivers face several problems in their daily lives, a few being listed below:

  1. Financial constraints: Caregivers often have to take a back seat as far as their jobs are concerned and take up lower positions or part-time jobs resulting in financial constraints.
  2. Lack of Privacy: With the patient and related duties taking up a major part of their lives, most caregivers face a lack of privacy in their personal lives leaving little or no room for personal relationships with their spouses/ partners and /or other family members.
  3. Health issues: While it seems ironic, caregiving can be an extremely time-consuming task leaving caregivers with little time to care for their own health, with regular checkups for pre-existing conditions taking a back seat. They thus have higher risks of developing diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle-related conditions.
  4. Guilt: caregivers often feel a sense of guilt if the care they render to a patient is in any way compromised. The fact that they sometimes feel resentful towards the patient and their duties only serve to compound the problem leaving them feeling deeply unsettled.
  5. Depression: With a patient requiring constant attention, caregivers are at a higher risk of emotional trauma and developing depression. With caregiving taking up a major part of their time, it is difficult for them to maintain social connections outside the home thus isolating them from society.
  6. Difficulty in handling medical needs: Sometimes, untrained caregivers find it difficult to handle the more complex aspects of medical care like recording blood pressure, maintaining IV drips and lifting or mobilizing the patient. Since they may not be medically trained, the finer aspects of health care remain a challenge to many.

With caregivers facing such a plethora of problems, it is not surprising therefore that they tend to become victims of various health issues themselves later in life. It is indeed a very short journey from caregiver to the one being cared for.

SOLUTIONS

A few simple solutions can be formulated to alleviate some common problems. They include:

  1. Seeking support: This can be forthcoming from other family members and/or support groups within the community. With the pandemic raging, this may be in the form of online groups. Support groups help with logistics like grocery or medicine shopping, banking, paying bills etc which reduce the burden of routine activities on caregivers.
  2. Taking some time out: It is essential for caregivers to devote some time of the day exclusively to themselves pursuing any activity that they enjoy which helps them unwind and relax so that they can return to their duties with renewed zest.
  3. Practising relaxation techniques: Yoga, meditation, deep breathing all help keep stress which all caregivers experience at bay. 
  4. Ensuring a healthy diet: A caregiver needs a balanced and nutritious diet served at proper times to ensure that they not only remain healthy but also do not fall prey to deficiency or lifestyle diseases. 
  5. Practising gratitude: While constantly dealing with a sick person is mentally taxing leading to feelings of isolation and bitterness among caregivers, it is essential to practice gratitude for being able to care for a loved one and thus leading an altruistic life. This causes a feeling of positivity and helps keep depression at bay.

Being a caregiver for a loved one especially in a non -clinical set up is one of the most difficult tasks a person can accomplish. It is driven by a deep feeling of compassion, altruism and of course need. It is therefore important to recognize all caregivers for the better human beings that they are and appreciate their unstinted efforts in alleviating human suffering.

Featured Image Source: Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels
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About the author

Describing herself as a 'surgeon who would rather wield a pen', Dr Sumedha Rege is an ENT specialist by profession but a writer by choice. After completing post-graduation in ENT in 2003, she has also worked as a post-graduate trainer in a popular institute in Mumbai. Obtaining an advanced diploma in creative writing with distinction in 2010, she has written on myriad topics for quite a few online publications. She currently has a private practice in Thane and is specially interested in nasal allergies.

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