Caregivers Also Need To Care For Themselves

Caregivers often devote so much time and energy to caring for a loved one that they fail to take adequate care of themselves. This has become so common that there is actually a term for it, "caregiver burnout." If you are serving as the caregiver in your family, you need to understand the difficulty of what you are undertaking and recognize the signs that you may be trying to do too much. Are you approaching burnout? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you exhausted even after a full night's sleep?
  • Do you seem to catch an unusually large number of colds?
  • Do you feel like your whole life revolves around caregiving but you don't get any satisfaction from it?
  • Are you always tense or feel like you've lost the ability to simply relax?
  • Are you increasingly impatient with the person in your care?
  • Do you often feel helpless, sometimes even hopeless?

If your answer to some of these questions is yes, and you didn't feel this way until you began serving as caregiver, you may indeed be approaching burnout. You need to begin the process of caring for yourself. First, you must understand that what you are feeling is not unusual. Caregiver burnout is much more common than you might think. After all, Americans are living longer than ever before and frequently need long-term care as they grow older. Many people can't afford professional care and rely on loved ones for the care they need. Here are some steps you can take if you believe you might be suffering from caregiver burnout.

  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one's illness and how to care for it. The more you know, the more effective you'll be and the better you'll feel about your efforts.
  • Recognize your limits. This involves taking a more realistic approach to how much time and effort you can give your loved one. Then, be sure to express those limits to doctors and other family members.
  • Learn to accept how you feel about the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, grief... all of these emotions and more are commonly experienced by caregivers.
  • Talk to people about your feelings. Keeping your emotions bottled up doesn't do you or the person you are caring for any good. Confiding in friends and family members can provide a sense of relief and help you overcome feelings of isolation.

This last step is extremely important. Remember--you are not alone. Support is available from people who understand what you are going through and can help you cope with the stress involved. You must do whatever it takes to avoid a sense of isolation. You'll find support groups within the community online, in the phone book, through your physician, and from organizations associated with the health problem of the loved one under your care.

How To Choose A Professional Home Care Provider

Perhaps you have realized that you simply can't continue to provide adequate care to your loved one. Or maybe your loved one lives far away and your responsibilities at home won't allow you to serve as caregiver. In either case, you may need to turn to a professional home care provider. The question is, how do you choose the right person for this important task? The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) has created a valuable checklist with questions you should ask providers and others who may be familiar with the provider's history. Here are some of the questions NAHC recommends.

  • How long has the provider served the community?
  • Does the provider have literature explaining its services, eligibility requirements, fees, and funding sources? Does the provider have what is known as a "Patient Bill of Rights" outlining the responsibilities and rights of the provider, caregiver and patient?
  • How does the provider choose and train its caregivers?
  • Are therapists or nurses used to evaluate the patient's needs? If so, do they consult with the patient's family members and physicians?
  • Does the provider include the patient and members of his or her family in developing a care plan? If changes to the level of care are needed over time, are patients and family members involved in making these decisions?
  • Is the patient's course of treatment documented? Does the patient receive a copy of this documentation, and do the caregivers update it as changes occur? Does the provider take the time necessary to educate family members on the care being provided to the patient?
  • Does the provider assign supervisors to oversee the quality of care patients receive in their homes? If so, how often do these supervisors make visits? Who can the patient and his or her family members contact with questions or complaints? How does the provider follow up on and resolve any problems that might arise?
  • What are the provider's billing procedures? Does it furnish written statements explaining all of the charges? Are payment plans available?
  • What procedures does the provider follow in case of an emergency? Are the provider's caregivers available 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • How does the provider ensure patient confidentiality?

You should also ask the provider for references. Suitable references include doctors, discharge planners and other patients or their family members. Be sure to contact the references and ask questions such as:

  • Do you refer clients to this provider often?
  • Do you and the provider have a contractual relationship? If so, do you require that the provider meets special standards for quality care?
  • What feedback have you received from patients under the care of this provider?
  • Do you know if this provider has cared for people with conditions similar to those of my loved one? If so, can you provide me with contact information for these individuals?

To learn more about finding and choosing the right professional home care provider, visit the National Association for Home Care & Hospice website at

The Cost Of Care

Of course, one of the factors you must consider in obtaining professional care for your loved one is the cost. Here is a link to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, which provides median costs for home care, assisted living care and nursing home care across the country: