Health Q&A

Survival Tips For Family Caregivers

August 1, 2018

What is a family caregiver?

Family caregivers are commonplace in South Africa with many people supporting relatives with hospital recovery, frail care, palliative care or special needs therapy.

Reasons to consider home-based care

• Promote a safe and hygienic environment as secondary infections or health risks are avoided if the patient is cared for in their own home
• Provide personalised attention because caregivers know their patients intimately and so can offer their patient bespoke care
• Offer a cost-effective option as home-based care has proven, historically, to be less expensive than the care provided at a hospital, nursing home or hospice
• Allow for independence in that the patient feels comfortable and relaxed within the comfort of their home while family members can enjoy close access to their loved one

Caregiving is a demanding and important responsibility that requires dedication, accountability and conscientiousness. Duties can include both medical and non-medical tasks. Medical duties could include basic nursing care like bathing, toileting, administering medication or assisting with the side effects of treatment; while non-medical duties could include providing transport, cooking, feeding or dressing the patient and assisting them with day-to-day administrative functions like their finances or entertainment. Many people will find themselves taking on the role of a caregiver at some stage. In this light it is important that steps are taken to avoid caregiver burnout.

What is caregiver burnout?

Given the level of responsibility involved, the strain of caregiving, whether it’s part-time or full-time, can place enormous strain on a carer. This takes a heavy toll on their physical and mental health, and research indicates that family caregivers can easily become overwhelmed, especially if they are also juggling a job, parenting or running a household.

Caregivers often neglect their own physical or mental health because they’re so focussed on providing the best possible care for their loved ones. Consequently, they can develop caregiver burnout. This has serious implications. Untreated burnout symptoms could increase their risk of developing physical health problems like heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer or diabetes; or mental health problems like stress, anxiety or depression.

Some of the physical and mental symptoms associated with caregiver burnout may include:

  • Sleep irregularities like insomnia
  • Poor diet – leading to either weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling constantly exhausted and fatigued
  • Social withdrawal and loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Being easily irritated or angered
  • Headaches or stomach pains
  • A run-down immune system leading to colds, flu or other infections
  • Inability to concentrate
Avoid caregiver burnout with these tips

Family caregivers are usually untrained and unprepared for the physical and emotional challenges associated with caregiving. Caring for a sick or frail person affects the carer’s time, resources, energy and finances.

Avoid caregiver burnout by striking a balance between your capabilities and responsibilities. Here are some tips to ensure effective caregiving while maintaining your own health and wellbeing:

  • Self-care

Self-care is the conscious, deliberate and ongoing process where you commit to taking care of yourself. Be mindful of your needs and limitations. Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a nutritious diet and by getting enough sleep.

  • Be prepared

Empower yourself with knowledge and learn as much as you can about the disease or condition your loved one has so that you can provide the right type of care for their needs. You may want to consider investing in specialised technology, like an emergency alert device, or equipment, like a hospital bed, to make caregiving more efficient. Likewise, manage your time effectively by developing routines and schedules.

  • Get help

Sometimes it can prove impossible to do it all on your own. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Try to be cognisant of your own limitations and assign help or delegate duties where possible. This could mean getting a home helper who can assist with the housekeeping or a nurse aid who can help with some of the patient care. Check if your local community has any resources you can use like disabled transportation or counselling services.

  • Keep connected

Don’t allow caregiving to leave you isolated and alone. This is a sure way to become frustrated or depressed. Invest in your social life by keeping connected to your friends and family. It’s recommended you join a support group so that you can interact with like-minded people who can offer you emotional support or innovative ideas about caregiving.

  • Taking time off

It’s important to give yourself a break. Regular leave allows you to recharge and will improve your ability to care for your patient with renewed energy. Try to plan for temporary homecare or short-term nursing at a local facility so that you can make a date to treat yourself to a mini break or just a short interlude by watching a movie or going to your favourite restaurant.

Family caregivers provide an invaluable and selfless service for their loved ones and although this work is important, it also comes with challenges that can strain a carer’s lifestyle and health. Topmed encourages those who are in the position of providing care to strike a healthy balance between their caring responsibilities and their own wellbeing. Contact us today and sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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