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Caring for Caregivers

If you have ever been a caregiver, you understand the unique rewards — and challenges — of looking after a loved one. You want to give them the best possible care from day to day, but being a caregiver can often feel overwhelming, lonely, and stressful.

At Luminis Health, our goal is to provide support, educational tools, and comfort to caregivers of all ages. Here are some important things to know about being a caregiver.

What is a Caregiver?

A caregiver is simply someone who gives care to others. Caregiving might involve anything from helping an elderly parent organize their medications to providing round-the-clock care for a disabled child.

A caregiver might be the mother of an adult with special needs, a husband or wife caring for a spouse with a chronic illness, or an older adult looking after a sibling with dementia.

A caregiver does not need to be a family member. They may be a friend or companion of the person. They may give care 24/7, a few days a week, or on a part-time basis.

The Unique Challenges of Caregiving

Often, a caregiver doesn't have medical training, though may be expected to:
  • Take on a new role that you feel completely unprepared for. You may never have pictured yourself in this situation, and you're not sure how to handle it.
  • Be available round-the-clock.
  • Be an advocate.
  • Devote large amounts of time, energy, and resources towards managing complex medical care.

Caregivers often feel overwhelmed, especially as a loved one's health gets worse. The demands of providing care can feel all-consuming, especially if you're still working, under a financial strain, or have other family obligations. Caregivers may experience stress, anxiety, depression, and physical health problems.

The 4Ms of Age Friendly Care

At Luminis Health, we encourage caregivers to take care of their own needs as well as those of your care recipient. We address these needs as the “4Ms" — and here are some tips for managing them.

Identify the health outcome goals and care preferences for both you and your loved one(s), and discuss these with your family and your medical providers as you navigate healthcare decisions. Make sure to have conversations with your loved one, whether they are young or old, about their end of life priorities and decisions, and to document their advance directives. Schedule breaks from caregiving for yourself. Meet up with friends, take time for hobbies you love, and plan regular outings to give yourself a break.

Encourage safe movement and exercise for your loved one to maintain their strength and function and improve their quality of life. Make time for yourself to exercise and get some fresh air into your day. Combine cardio (walking, biking, jogging) with weight- bearing exercise (yoga, Pilates, light weights). Being physically fit will make you stronger and more resilient when it comes to caregiving.

Discuss cognitive changes you observe in the care recipient with their medical provider, as depression, agitation, delirium, and dementia should be promptly evaluated and treated. Recognize that your own mental health needs to be a priority. Create personal time in your day for yourself, confide in a trusted friend occasionally, and ask medical personnel for guidance if your caregiving responsibilities are unclear. Seek out support groups or counseling or other mental health support so you can thrive as a caregiver.

Discuss medications for your loved one with their primary care provider, with a goal of decreasing side effects and keeping the dosing regimens as simple as possible. Utilize medication dosing charts or and/or weekly pill organizers to ensure accurate administration. Then ensure that both of you are eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of fluids, as this is just as important as taking prescriptions as ordered. 

Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

Caregiving can take its toll on you emotionally and physically. To be able to take care of others you need to take care of yourself.

  • Identify your support system. Make a list of key people in your life and those of your loved one. These people could be family, friends, neighbors, or members of your place of worship.
  • Keep a visible calendar. It should be large and hung in a place where every visitor can see it. You can track appointments, needs, and visitors. You may want to highlight items or tasks that still need to be covered.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Most people genuinely want to lend a hand, but they don't know what you need. When someone says, “Let me know what I can do to help," give them a specific task (or choice of tasks). If you leave it vague, they won't know how to help — or they may assume you have all the help you need.
  • Make a list of specific activities for helpers. That could include housework, shopping, laundry, delivering meals, visits, driving them to their doctor's appointments or other outings, or simply providing you with a few hours of respite.
  • Schedule daily and weekly breaks. Sometimes just getting out for a couple hours — whether you have coffee with a friend, take in a movie, or go for a walk — can refresh and energize you.

Resources for Caregivers

Fortunately, there are places to turn to help when it comes to caring for caregivers.

Discuss caregiving with medical providers and nursing staff. They can walk you through what you might need to do as a caregiver and can offer access to support groups.

The Maryland Department of Aging and the Alzheimer's Association offer a wide range of support programs for caregivers, as well as legal and financial resources. Connecting with other people in your situation can be invaluable.

Other resources include:

Video resources for caregivers: