Celebrating you, the caregiver

Published 3:16 pm Friday, November 10, 2017

November is National Home Care and Hospice Month. This month, we reflect on the clinical staff that takes such wonderful care of their patients. Thank you all for what you do and the wonderful service you provide to your patients.

We also need to remember to thank and recognize the caregivers of these patients. All of the love and care poured into our mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers is wonderful. But some pour this love and care into loved ones every day — day in and day out — forgetting to take care for themselves. When one is a caregiver, he can easily put himself on the back burner. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. Caregiver burnout is common and not anything to be ashamed of. Awareness of such state is important as well as how to handle the stress and exhaustion.

Physical exhaustion: Signs of physical exhaustion include caregivers not wearing the same clothes they’ve always worn (old T-shirts, going out in “around the house clothing”), no make-up, hair not kept neatly trimmed or styled, dark circles under the eyes and even easily catching “bugs” and viruses quicker or easier than they used to. A person’s body takes a hard toll when he is up all hours of the night. It’s very strenuous on any one person having to assist with baths or helping mom in and out of the bed. In a sense, being a caregiver to an adult is like being a caregiver to an infant or young child. As a new mother myself, I remember vividly the best advice ever given to me. It was, “Take the help when help is offered.” I believe this is true for caregivers of adults as well. Allow close friends or family that offer to help do just that — help! They are truly wanting to take some of the workload of the caregiver and in the end, that will be able to give the body rest. A caregiver may even be able to take a nap, enjoy some self-pampering or just enjoy the view from the front porch with a cold glass of iced tea in hand.

Emotional exhaustion: Caregivers who are truly burnt out usually do not like to admit they are emotionally exhausted. There is something “easier” about saying you are physically or mentally tired, but in true caregiver fashion, they like to always seem to have their emotions in check. This is extremely common and more than acceptable. How can one support another person going through such an emotionally charged time in life, when he is not exercising, as well as resting his emotions? When someone is dedicating his time to taking care of a loved one who is now going through a life change and needing so much support and assistance, a lot of emotions come into play. If a caregiver you know seems to be having multiple crying spells, quick changes in attitude (positive to negative), feels furious, sad or helpless — he may be emotionally exhausted.

The first step is admitting to emotional exhaustion. Do whatever needs to be done to find a place of gathering. This may be crying, truly laughing, praying/meditating or even taking a ride in the car and singing at the top of their lungs to their favorite song. Caregivers need to make sure they are emotionally stable to help another person face the emotional life changes he may be going through.

Mental exhaustion: Mental exhaustion is different from emotional exhaustion in the sense that one can no longer think clearly or function as he should. As a mentally exhausted caregiver, he may experience headaches. Caregivers are so overwhelmed with the bills, instructions, routines and medications that they are unable to attend to them. This, in turn, does not service the loved one needing help well at all. They may even be awake all hours of the night with their minds racing. The caregiver can experience exhaustion during the day.

Take care of you: Take the time to rest your mind, accept help from close friends or family, take enough time to recharge, eat healthy, exercise and make an appointment with your physician to discuss any concerns you may have. Everyone needs care. Everyone needs to be the best he can be before reaching out and helping others. If you don’t take time for you and something happens to you, what will happen to the person you are caring for?

Again, as we reflect this month on the wonderful service that hospice is, and that home care can provide, we also want to celebrate the caregiver. You are an important part of the equation, and there is no way that you can do what you do to the best of your ability if you are not taking care of yourself.

Brittany Elks, community liaison, strategic development, is with Vidant Home Health and Hospice. She can be reached by calling 1-800-227-3894. Visit www.vidanthealth.com/HHH.