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Caregivers face wide variety of challenges
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Caregiving is an act of love that takes a lot from a person who provides care to someone who cannot look after themselves.
According to the most recent figures available from the National Long Term Care Survey, 65 percent of older Americans who live at home and need assistance are cared for by family and friends. Thirty percent have some paid help, while just 5 percent rely completely on paid help.
Family caregivers average 30 hours of unpaid care each week. All these numbers add up to a lot of people providing support to others at the cost of exhaustion and stress to themselves.
Linda Patterson, health education specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said those who serve as caregivers for elderly or disabled people must keep up with the person's medicines, offer physical care, provide for activity, meet nutritional needs and possibly perform medical treatments.
"A person can have these needs to varying degrees, so the stress and demands on the caregiver depend on the abilities of the person they are caring for," Patterson said. "The less a person is able to do for themselves, the more a caregiver must do. I recommend people get the assistance they need before they wear themselves out trying to meet all the person's needs."
A basic caregiving task is correctly administering medications. This requires good organizational skills and communication with the health care provider and pharmacist.
Caregivers can hire help with grooming and hygiene through home aides. They might also arrange for special equipment at the home such as accessible showers and grab bars. Helping with these activities can be very demanding.
Everyone needs some regular physical activity, and even those who are bedridden must be repositioned and moved.
"This requires some strength and training in good body mechanics to be able to move someone around, whether to put them in a chair, take them for a walk or turn them over in bed," Patterson said.
Nutritional needs must be met for the person who can no longer care for themselves. Food service is available, but it still requires time and energy to ensure that someone is eating well.
Caregivers also may need to provide medical treatments such as changing dressings, tube feedings and caring for bed sores. Patterson said a doctor or nurse can teach these skills.
"Caregivers can be trained to provide minor medical treatments depending on their motivation, level of comfort, natural abilities and confidence," Patterson said. "Sometimes knowing how to provide this care can make life easier and more convenient for the caregiver."
Louise Davis, Extension child and family development specialist, said caregivers often don't realize the pressure they are living and operating under, neither do the people near them.
"Caregivers are often under tremendous stress as they become wrapped up in their work," Davis said. "Many times they don't realize how much of themselves they are putting into their work."
Research has shown that the responsibility of caregiving can have both positive and negative effects on the caregiver. Negative outcomes include social and emotional problems, isolation, depression, irritability, physical fatigue, and conflicts between responsibilities of work, family and caregiving.
"Positive outcomes are much less understood, but some report emotional satisfaction, personal growth and a closer relationship with the person they are caring for," Davis said. "Caregiving can provide families with a shared purpose or focus and increased communication."
Davis said knowing when to pay for caregiving services is a personal decision that should be made before a person is exhausted with the work and responsibilities. When considering whether to caregive or not, each person should question themself about how free they would be to establish relationships, carry on a personal life and interact socially with others.
"Life will change with caregiving, but it doesn't have to change totally," Davis said. "It's extremely important to keep up your hobbies, social interaction and health."