The term caregiver refers to anyone who provides assistance to someone else who is in some degree incapacitated and needs help:
- a husband who has suffered a stroke;
- a wife with Parkinson's disease;
- a mother-in-law with cancer;
- a grandfather with Alzheimer's disease;
- a son with traumatic brain injury from a car accident;
- a child with muscular dystrophy;
- a friend with AIDS.
If you're such a person, you know it.
A 2000 survey by the National Family Caregivers Association reports that 1 in 4 families is currently caring for a family member or friend, or had been during the previous year. That translates into about 54 million people. Caregiving takes a tremendous toll on a person.
Communicate with the one you care for. Ask them how you can help, what they like, what they don't.
Listen. Listening is one of the most life giving and life affirming gifts you can offer.
Treat as the equal he or she is. Do not make decisions without consulting them. Do not treat them as helpless. Empathize but never pity them.
Care for the other by caring for their environment. Help shape an environment that is pleasing, comforting and fitting for the individual.
Draw close to the other and to the other's experience. A telephone call, a brief visit, a short note, a back rub, a manicure, a simple touch of the hand can say a lot.
Establish boundaries. Understand that you cannot always be with and constantly do for another. Set some physical and emotional boundaries.
Expect a range of emotions. Caregivers often run through a variety of emotions ranging from anxiety, fear, and depression, to helplessness, frustration and exhaustion, to joy, gratitude and love. We are all human. Emotions are simply signs that we care.
Express your feelings. Talk with others. Find a support group. Write your feelings in a journal. Capture them in a picture. Have a good yell or a good cry.
Give good care to yourself so that you can be a good caregiver. Remember that you only have a certain amount of energy and you must replenish it. Allow others to help you.
Relax into your role. You don't have to know everything, do everything, be everything. You'll learn and improve as time unfolds.
Look for the positive. You cannot control what happens or what will happen. You can only control how you respond.
Walk with the other in the search of meaning. Talk about this illness.