Underpaid, Overworked, And Very Appreciated: Thank You To Our Family Caregivers

Let’s hear it for the caregivers! We can’t say enough good things about professional nurses and aides who have put the time and training into wanting to help clients with their health needs. Whether it’s someone who comes by a few times a week or stays there for a longer shift, the caregiver is an important part of that client’s health journey.

In some cases, a “pro” caregiver may even become an important part of that person’s life and circle of friends during this period of caring. Trusting relationships can be developed from people who spend a lot of time together, especially for someone who may need assistance.

Their training has helped nurses and others learn all sorts of helpful medical procedures, along with useful techniques like how to deal with stress, unhappy patients, or ways to avoid burnout. Health care, especially home health care, is a well-paying career that’s only going to become more and more in demand due to a larger population getting older and needing this type of care.   

But there’s another type of caregiver who also should receive kudos, and maybe even in larger ways.

These are the unpaid, untrained caregivers who offer to help a family member or loved one with their needs.

They may not do be able to do anything particularly advanced in the field of medicine and nursing, but their presence can comfort a patient who may be worried that they might have to relocate or may not be able to afford a full-time aide.

Even untrained caregivers can offer useful help such as:

  • Food preparation
  • Errands such as grocery shopping
  • Transportation, including medical appointments
  • Medication management
  • Housekeeping
  • Mobility assistance
  • Availability for emergencies
  • Assistance with grooming/dressing/hygiene
  • Assistance with therapy/exercise
  • Point of contact for nurses/doctors

Family members who offer to be caregivers may have a great experience overall. It could be a time to re-establish or deepen a relationship with a parent, relative, or other loved one.   Even if someone is on hospice and doesn’t have a lot of time left, there’s potential for great conversations and learning about each other’s lives.  

Challenges of caregiving

Unfortunately, people who have been caregivers to family members will tell you that while there are satisfying moments, it’s not always easy, whether it’s short-term situation where a loved one may need someone staying with them for a month or so for health reasons, or a longer prognosis where care is needed for years.

Caregiving can be stressful and tiring for both parties.

A patient may be in pain and unhappy at times. They may be frustrated at their circumstances and situation and take it out on those around them – especially the caregiver.

The caregiver also may grow resentful, especially if they have to balance things like their own family members and maybe their career to take care of someone. They may feel guilty about it or pressured, and they’re more than likely not getting paid. Some people may take a leave of absence or even leave their jobs entirely.

Longtime familiarity may cause past conflicts and dynamics to re-emerge, such as a parent setting “rules” their child even though the grown-up child is the one proving care voluntarily.

And, unlike some professional nurses or aides who can go home at the end of their shift, a family caregiver is already home, and is always on call.

So, what can be done to make it a good experience?

  • Balance the load. Although one family member may be more suited for caregiving due to personality or circumstances, others need to help. This could mean dividing up schedules or at least being available to fill in on a regular basis. This gives the primary caregiver a break and lets others share in the experience.
  • Check into respite care. Area medical centers or even hospice programs may offer opportunities where professional caregivers can come and sit with a client for a few hours or even a day. This will give their regular caregiver an opportunity to do whatever they want by themselves. Some communities even have respite centers where a client can come visit and spend the day participating in activities with others.
  • Look for new activities as well as routines. Even if someone isn’t able to get out, you can still look for things to do to keep boredom (and resentment) from setting in. This could be different foods, different movies and different projects. Even if it’s “busy work” like labeling or sorting old photos, it could still be useful.
  • Find support. Your community likely has some kind of caregiver support group where people in a similar situation can gather regularly to share their perspective. It can be a safe place to share frustrations but also encouragement. It could also be a way to learn about resources in one’s community or different strategies.
  • Online resources. Even if you can’t get away regularly, you’ll likely find forums of social media pages where other caregivers share their perspectives. As with most online things, there’s always the possibility of exaggeration, both good or bad, but at least you won’t feel alone and might even find useful suggestions.

To recognize the sacrifice, the National Council on Aging has declared November to be National Family Caregivers Month, an opportunity to show support for people in these arrangements.

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