who cares?

By Louise Sukle
Editor & Publisher
Woman Newspapers

Of the approximate 44 million caregivers in the United States, over 60% are women. Most are middle-aged with jobs outside of the home. Stepping into the role of an at-home caregiver can be be a difficult transition but typically, we women do whatever it takes to provide for our family and care for our loved ones, whether coming into the office early, staying late or reducing their hours altogether. Many of us wind up burning the candle at both ends, leaving us exhausted and prone to caregiver stress.

There’s no doubt about it. Caring for a sick or disabled person can be draining, emotionally, physically and financially. Add to that the responsibility of caring for a family and holding down a job, and it’s easy to see why many women suffer from caregiver stress. The problem can vary in intensity, and if left untreated, it can lead to a host of conditions, some short- and some long-term.

Anger, frustration, exhaustion, guilt and loneliness are usually the first signs of caregiver stress. Unfortunately, most woman are too busy to recognize the symptoms, much less deal with them. Many begin to suffer from anxiety and depression and become increasingly ill. We catch bugs easily and take longer to recover. Many also put on weight. All of this can lead to the development of more serious, life-long conditions, like arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Recognizing the presence of caregiver stress is the first step in dealing with it. Seeking help is the second. Many communities offer a wide range of resources for caregivers, from transportation and meal delivery services to home health care and counseling services to support groups and in-home volunteer services. Many are available at a low cost.

Gathering support from family members can also be beneficial, especially with the financial aspects. Family members may be able to share the financial burdens,or at the very least, share the responsibilities. While one person might be the main hands-on caregiver, another might arrange for appointments and another for food and clothes.

There is no shame in asking for help. Family caregivers typically get their knowledge from others who have been in a similar situation. Often, experienced caregivers pay it forward by sharing strategies and techniques they themselves developed based on someone else’s knowledge which was previously paid forward as well.

Sooner or later, life will hand us a problem or situation that exceeds our capacity. Seeking solutions to difficult situations is, of course, one of the most important tools in caregiving. You are not alone. Check out Woman’s Caregiver Central PA guide inside this issue for helpful resources and useful tips.

More importantly, we should take care of ourselves, taking the time to exercise and eat right and see the doctor regularly. Ill, stressed caregivers cannot provide the care needed for their loved one or their family. Whether you’re a new or experienced caregiver, I hope you can use this special issue to pick up some valuable information to help make your life a little less stressful.