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Caring for Caregivers

7 tips for helping caregivers cope

Providing care for someone and being responsible for their well-being can be physically, emotionally and financially demanding. So, it's no surprise that many caregivers experience stress. Some describe stress as burnout. Ellen L. Carbonell, LCSW, a clinical social worker at Rush, however, isn't fond of that term.

" 'Burnout' indicates that someone is done, and that they are too overwhelmed to continue," she says. "But by making some changes and getting help, caregiving and the stress that often goes with it can become more manageable."

Stress signals

How can you help a stressed out caregiver? Start by recognizing the signs of stress:

  • Trouble sleeping or getting up in the morning
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased use of alcohol or taking prescribed drugs in ways other than how they were prescribed
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Not enjoying things that were once pleasurable

These symptoms could also signal depression, so stepping in and offering support is essential. If you or someone you know experiences more severe symptoms, like suicidal thoughts, call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 immediately.

Encourage caregivers to talk to someone about their worries, whether it's you, a friend, a clergy person or a therapist.

How you can help caregivers

Conveying to caregivers that they shouldn't feel ashamed for needing help is also important, Carbonell says.

"Caregiving can have a significant impact on life. It can stress your career, your family, your friendships. It can also affect finances and lead to serious health problems," she says.

If you see signs of caregiver stress in someone, you can help in these ways:

  1. Acknowledge that caregiving is stressful and emphasize the importance of the caregivers' self-care.
  2. Do something concrete for them, like grocery store shopping or watching their child so they can take a break.
  3. Ask the caregiver to list some concrete ways you can provide help for them (e.g., walk their dog, clean their closets, bring them a weekly meal, come over for a chat).
  4. Remind them to visit their doctors and dentist regularly and get the appropriate health screenings. If there are hurdles to keeping the appointments, like scheduling conflicts or lack of transportation, help to find solutions.
  5. Help them tap into outside resources, such as residential respite care — which provides short-term, out-of-the-home care for adults with serious health problems, allowing caregivers to take a break. Programs that provide out-of-the-home adult day care or bringing in a home health care professional can also be useful.
  6. Encourage caregivers to talk to someone about their worries, whether it's you, a friend, a clergy person or a therapist.
  7. Suggest a support group for caregivers, like those offered at Rush.

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