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Social Issues: Caring For The At-Home Care Givers

Updated on July 7, 2013
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You probably know someone who is providing care at home for a loved one who is ill, injured, or disabled.

In 2010, it is estimated that more than 12 million people were receiving care at home for terminal illness, injury, mental illness, or long-term disability. The cost of that care exceeded $72 billion in 2010. The basic economics of the home care are shocking as the numbers climb every year.

All around us are families and friends who are providing care at home for a loved one and the chances are that we aren’t even aware of their circumstances. The families that provide care at home for a loved one rarely complain and almost never ask for help. They are the true unsung heroes in life who get up each day with uncertainty, wondering what the day will bring and praying for the strength to meet the challenges.

Care-giver stress.

Look closely at your neighbors and friends. Have you missed the signs? The signs of care-giver stress are subtle at first. You may not notice at all. They are easily overlooked or disregarded as normal but there is nothing normal about them.

Care-giver stress can manifest as:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Change in weight (gain or loss)
  • Loss of hair
  • Skin disorders (hives, eczema, psoriasis, tics, itching)
  • Weakened immune system: more colds, flu, infections
  • Fatigue (apathy, dark circles under the eyes, lost interest in grooming, eating)
  • Loss of interest in news, events.
  • Stomach problems (upset stomach, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Headaches
  • Back, shoulder or neck pain, muscle tension

Any one or combination of the symptoms above can signal care-giver stress and is a silent scream for help.

Hiding in the shadows

Many care-givers deny the symptoms of stress or explain them away as the price they are willing to pay to keep their loved one at home. Some may feel it is their duty to provide care around the clock and that to ask for help is a sign of weakness or betrayal. But anyone who cares of a loved one at home needs help from people who care.

Do you know who they are? Would you recognize them in your neighborhood or place of work?

Chances are that someone in your neighborhood or workplace is living in the shadows of being a care-giver. They may be caring for a loved one who is battling cancer, struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, losing a battle with mental illness, or fighting to come back from the stroke or accident that left them unable to do for themselves. Chances are, their family has had to learn to do things they once thought impossible.

Examples and Scenarios

Those that deserve and need our help may be a husband who never dreamed he would have to put diapers on his wife or maintain the central line that provides medication that makes her pain bearable.

It may be an elderly woman who sleeps with one eye on her husband to make sure he is still breathing since the stroke almost took him away from her.

Somewhere nearby there may be a young mother whose 15 year old son has been diagnosed with manic depression. She tolerates his verbal abuse, afraid to stand up for herself for fear of it escalating to physical abuse.

The man that repaired your car may be the father of a child born prematurely and now has cerebral palsy. The child’s mother couldn’t handle it the grief and left him to it alone.

Can you see inside those homes? Can you imagine the fatigue of knowing you cannot take a break, not even for an afternoon? Can you imagine the grief, of knowing you can’t do more because there just aren’t any more hours in the day? Can you imagine the fear not being able to do enough or, to do what is necessary at the right time? Do you know these people who are suffering in silence? What would you do if you knew?

The potential scenarios are as varied as you can imagine, but all around us are people that are hurting and yet they put on a brave face and pretend they are doing okay. You probably haven’t noticed because they didn’t want you to see how tired, sad, or frustrated they are. Care at home for a loved one who is unable to care for themselves is hard and until you’ve done it, you cannot imagine how hard it is.

H.O.W. you can help

The smallest offer of help can make a world of difference to someone who is caring for a loved one at home.

  • An offer to stop at the store on the way home can save a precious hour of time.
  • A simple meal delivered can give a care-giver extra time with the one they love,
  • An offer to sit with the ill or injured can provide the care-giver the time to run an errand.
  • Gift the care-giver with a massage or pedicure and offer to stay while they redeem the gift.
  • Take a thermos of coffee and some cookies and just listen while the care-giver unloads.
  • Pick up the mail or newspaper and deliver it in person.
  • Cut flowers from your garden or pick up some fresh fruit and go for a short visit.
  • If you have nursing skills offer to help on a weekend or take an evening shift.
  • If you have mechanical skills, offer to repair a broken faucet or get the car inspected.
  • If you do nothing else, call, stop by, or send a card just to let the care-giver know they are not forgotten or alone.

There are hundreds of tiny acts of kindness that can make such a difference. If you have nothing else to offer but friendship, offer it. Care-givers often just need someone to listen, hold their hand, or listen. In the process of caring for a loved one, they often cease to be aware of their own needs. Remind them that they are human and still important to you. Let me know they are not invisible and have not been forgotten. Show them you care and that you are there for them. Be there, so they do not feel alone.

Make a difference, wont you?

While watching an interview recently of a CNN commentator and Shimon Perez, the current President of Israel and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Peres made a statement that struck a chord with me. It would be a good mantra for all. It went like this –

"An optimist and a pessimist will both pass away. The difference in them is how they live." - Shimon Peres

Give your optimism and love away. Make the difference in the quality of life for those that are providing care at home for a loved one. Won’t you be a care-giver to a care-giver who may be running on empty?

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

Read more of my hubs here.

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  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Louisa. All my life I have heard that the reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth was because we are supposed to listen more than we talk. Your story is an important lesson for all of us. Sometimes the greatest thing we can do for another person is to listen to them and keep our mouth shut. I hope your friend is doing better. Thank you for sharing the story.

  • Louisa Rogers profile image

    Louisa Rogers 4 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

    Hi Linda, thank you for such an important message that really spoke to me. Recently a friend of mine was coping with the terminal illness of a friend of hers. She was the unofficial point person for a group of supporters, and she was doing the bulk of care-giving. She was exhausted. When she and I got together, she would talk and talk, expressing her frustration at the other friends who were not stepping up much. Sometimes I would just listen and other times she'd ask for suggestions and we'd brainstorm how she could set boundaries and take care of herself too. Sometimes her anger was not easy for me to hear, even though it wasn't directed at me. I came away from this experience with the realization that sometimes we can provide a safe, non-judgmental space for the care-giver to vent all the intense emotions they're going through.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Shiningirisheyes, then you certainly know how important it is to have help and to be surrounded by people who will step in once in a while to give you a break. I applaud you! It is a hard and often thankless job.

  • shiningirisheyes profile image

    Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

    As I have played the role of caregiver to my Nana and my dear Dad, I say thank youf or a fabulous addition to H.O.W.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Gypsy! Thanks for taking the time to read my hub. You're right, care-giving is hard and can make people snap. Even under the best of circumstances, care-givers still need a break. Sometimes the hard part is making them take a break too. Thanks for sharing the message.

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and interesting. You are so right. I've seen what caregivers go through and I know that if they have support and are giving care in a family which are more like friends than employers it is alright but in a bad situation plus all the stress a person can snap that way. Your message comes shining through. Passing this on.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi teacher12345! Thank you. I appreciate your visit and your comment. I do hope this one helps someone.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Mary, thank you for a wonderful comment. Our generation is the first to be sandwiched between caring for both our children and our parents. Dementia in the elderly is the primary cause but there are so many caring for children with birth defects, spinal injuries, cancer, etc. It can be a very lonely place with little gratitude and tons of emotional stress. If you aren't there now, chances are you will be at some time in your lifetime. We have t help each other because "the system" can't do it all. Many care givers are invisible uless you are looking for them. I hope this hub brings awareness. Thanks for reading it.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

    Wonderful suggestions for helping as a caregiver. It is giving selflessly and so rewarding to both the giver and the reciever.

  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

    Linda, it seems you have struck a chord with many of us. We have all been (or are currently) in the caregiver situation. Recognizing it in another and seeing their stress is often something that goes over our head and doesn't penetrate. We need to see with our heart and be ready to help those that are helping others. I liked your suggestions.

    Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Melissa, hello! Thank you for understanding and sharing my feelings about the care-givers. It takes such a little to give them a badly needed respite. I'm so glad you visited and shared that observation.

  • mpropp profile image

    Melissa Propp 4 years ago from Minnesota

    Really great ideas in this hub. We often think about the charities or helping the needy, but we tend to forget the caregivers themselves. They have the toughest job and just a small act of kindness like the ones you mentioned could really help ease their burden.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Good morning Randi! Thanks for reading this. I heard that quote on the television a few days ago and it stuck a real chord with me. I just remembered who said it and am going to edit the hub and give credit where credit is due. I hope you are having a great day.

  • btrbell profile image

    Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

    Great, IMPORTANT, hub. I love the quote on optimists and pessimists, so true! you give some very solid, "doable" ideas! thank you for this all informative article!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Jeff! Kudos to you and your family. Your grandmother was blessed to have family that honored her wishes and was willing to make the sacrifice. It's easy to make those promises but sometimes hard to fulfill them. Thank you for reading and sharing your story. I am proud to have you for an HP friend.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Carol, your sister was very lucky to have a husband that was willing to take on her care and her children should be grateful. Men are often thrust into this role without having had experience with many of the things that are required. They always amaze me. My cousin recently took care of and watched his wife die of breast cancer. No woman could have taken better care of her. He managed her medications, kept her clean and comfortable, and worked full time in a high stress job. He was amazing! My hat is also off to all who do this and they deserve our respect and offer of help. Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.

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    JThomp42 4 years ago

    Great Hub Linda. We kept my grandmother at home and we all took care of her, my mother even taking a leave from work, because we had promised her never a nursing home. She passed in the home where she had lived for 33 years with her loved one's all around her. Thank you for this Hub Linda!

  • carol7777 profile image

    carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

    Being a caregiver is not easy. My sister's husband took care of her for three years...not all difficult..sporadically and the last several months very challenging for him. Though I was not there I have a good imagination. My niece and nephew didn't like him ...He was (is) a good man and loved my sister and I reminded them, if he was not there to do the job it would have been their responsibility. So my hat is off to all who undertake this job. Great hub and really brought out what it is all about.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi picklesandrufus! I't's always nice to find you in my comments. I appreciate your visit and your support - always!

  • picklesandrufus profile image

    picklesandrufus 4 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

    You have written a very important and needed hub. The caregiver has a hugely important and very hard job most of the time. Thanks for sharing!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Rich, thank you. Thank you for caring for a loved oen and for your heartfelt comment. Just as there are stages of grief, there are stages for care givers. Until one has been there, it is easy to to overlook the anger, guilt, fear, and resentment that are all natural feelings when your life is turned upside down providing care to someone you love. They should be lifted up, not judged.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Maria, I knew you would understand the feelings behind this one but your words make my heart swell. Thank you!

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello stillwaters707! Thank you for reading and shareing my feelings on this important topic. You bring up an excellent point and that is the trust that is required for a care-giver to be able to take that badly needed break. It's critical! Thank you.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    SilverGenes, hats off to you for being a care-giver. It takes a strength and courage that comes from deep within and is often a very lonely place t live. Thank you for being here for this one.

  • lrc7815 profile image
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    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Joseph, thank you so much for recognizing the symtoms of care-giver stress. Bless them all for doing the hard work with so much love.

  • rcrumple profile image

    Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

    Linda - Great post! I've been in a position of taking care of a person unable to take care of themselves twice in my life, and even though you don't regret doing it, the efforts are sometime challenges. Anything you can do to help is well appreciated. Great Job!

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 4 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Linda,

    The compassion you feel on this issue makes your words flow. The suggestions that you give in caring for these unsung heroes are beautiful in simple, helpful ways.

    Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

  • stillwaters707 profile image

    stillwaters707 4 years ago from Texas

    Thank you for this crucial hub. Caregivers desperately need breaks, especially from trusted people with nursing skills that can provide the help and time. The more hubs that encourage caregivers to care for themselves, and help care for caregivers, the better.

  • profile image

    SilverGenes 4 years ago

    Stress that caregivers experience is rarely discussed for all the reasons you mention. Your suggestions are excellent. I've been in that position, too, and any one of the ideas would make such a huge difference.

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 4 years ago

    This was so well written. I have seen some people with the symptoms you wrote down, Linda. Is true that they deny sometimes this running on empty stress, but they are out there caring for their families. and save that extra income needed. Thanks for this Important hub! H.O.W. wonderful!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hi Sherry. Thank you for reading this and sharing my thoughts. It is a hard and often thankless job. Your point about just checking in is wonderful and I am adding it now. Thank you so much!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Bill, this one is near and dear to my heart. The care-givers really are unsung heroes, as you know. I'm glad you felt this one fits with the mission. Thank you. If I'm cool to you, I have no other worries today. :-)

  • Sherry Hewins profile image

    Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

    This is such an insightful hub. Care-giving is hard and lonely work. Often they don't see many people other than the one they are caring for. I think even just checking in with them once in a while can be encouraging.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    This is such an important hub, Linda! I have been a caregiver, and I can attest to the truth in everything you wrote here. Well done, and it fits perfectly in the H.O.W. movement.

    You just keep getting cooler in my eyes. :)

    hugs,

    bill