The simple act of providing care for a friend, family member or individual in need is called caregiving. Although it sounds very easy to perform, it is a critical job that requires a hefty amount of effort toward ensuring the wellness of both the physical and mental health of the person in need.
It is an important and universal occupation that many people opt for voluntarily every year. It has many forms and a specific amount of knowledge is needed to understand and tackle the burnouts that many caregivers face.
What Is Caregiving?
Caregiving includes responsibilities of attending a person’s emotional, physical, practical needs. It can be performed either by a trained professional as a paid job or an untrained volunteer trying to help people suffering from diseases, disabilities, impairments, psychiatric disorders or even old age. Almost every person knowingly or unknowingly acts as a caregiver at some point in their lives. Anyone who provides care for another person, like spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, friends, partners, is a caregiver. In most cases people tend to rely on unpaid assistance from family, friends and neighbors, but caregiving as a crucial paid service is also very much sought after.
Caregiving as an occupation 1 or a paid service is when a stranger provides for the needs of elderly people, children or adults with special physical or mental conditions. Although there are many forms of caregiving, following are the majorly concerned job roles that are usually involved in caregiving:
- Providing assistance with personal care, meals and transportation
- Providing help with medical treatment and procedures
- Devoting a certain amount of time for the job. It can be several hours a day to a few hours a week, depending on the circumstances.
Who Are Caregivers?
Caregivers can be anyone who wishes to help another person with physical and mental difficulties, with personal, practical or medical assistance. According to a 2012 study 2 , voluntary caregiving is known as informal care and can be a challenging task that necessitates perseveration, dedication and patience. “Most caregivers derive personal satisfaction while caring for someone close to them and that enables them to cope with the stress and burden of care,” states the study. Caregivers are typically family members or friends who are often unprepared or underprepared for the task and responsibility. As a result, it can also affect their own health and well being. Research 3 shows that many caregivers tend to experience “negative psychological effects” and some “are at higher risk than others.”
Here are a few factors a caregiver needs to focus while preparing for the job:
1. Physical Ability
It is advised for the caregiver to learn lifting and transferring techniques or the use of special equipment that can help to make the job easier.
2. Mental Ability
Caregiving takes a huge toll on the mental health of the caregiver, thus adapting ways to make a plan of the upcoming responsibilities and how to execute them orderly, help vitally in maintaining the mental stability of the caregiver.
3. Emotional Ability
Caregivers often feel frustrated and isolated emotionally because of the nature of the job. It is very much advised to recognize and understand the challenges of the job at the very first step, so that one can emotionally prepare for the job role with the crucial understanding of the work.
Different Roles Of Caregivers
Caregivers are considered as a part of the universal health care team. Certain occupations are directly linked to caregiving. Some of the common professional caregivers can be physicians and nurses, social workers, home health aids, hospice volunteers, speech, occupational, and physical therapists and other health professionals. Communication is considered as one of the key components 4 that health care teams positively maintain to avoid any kind of discrepancy, otherwise it can be adversely affecting for both the caregiver and the recipient. The caregiving roles demand a wide range of responsibilities. Following are some of the major factors that should be considered:
1. Type of illness
It is considered that caring for someone with physical impairment is supposedly easier than caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease, or Dementia, or other brain impairing 5 disorders. For the latter the job has the potential to become more challenging and stressful. It usually requires continuous help with cognitive impairment or disorders as the nature of the care patient can be very unpredictable at times.
2. Long distance caregiving
Usually when a caregiver resides more than an hour away from the care patient’s location, it is called a long-distance caregiving 6 service. Long distance caregiving can be challenging emotionally and logistically for obvious reasons. The most common situations are when adult children and their parents do not reside in the same area. The caregiver does not get the opportunity to have direct or “hands-on” experience of the caregiving role, since they need to make sure of available resources by gathering information. The job role might include coordinating services where the caregiver tries to put together a team of paid help or family-friends, who can meet the needs of the care recipient.
3. Urban and rural settings
Caregivers residing in rural settings 7 are more likely to face challenges while performing the job due to fewer available resources. These obstacles might include lack of available formal services, lack of health clinicians, absence of health education services, difficulties in transportation, geographical situation including distance and climate etc.
Cultural Approaches Toward Caregiving
Caregivers and care patients often share different cultural values 8 in terms of history, traditions and rituals. The diversity of the cultural values can however pose specific challenges in caregiving. There are families in many cultures who have certain expectations about the caregiving roles of their family members. Daughters or daughters-in-law are mostly expected to take on the primary caregiving role for the aging parents or family members. Caregiving can occur gradually over time for some people, while some may get good at the job overnight. The job roles can be on either full time or part time basis that indirectly or directly concentrates on these following roles:
1. Providing emotional support
It is one of the main responsibilities for a caregiver as it can hugely affect the health of the care patient. Emotional support and human contact are the greatest help one can provide another human being.
2. Helping in decision making
This is another important key role as care recipients often deal with challenges in sorting out solutions for personal or practical issues. Assistance from the caregiver is very necessary for care recipients to recover health issues or retain proper health.
3. Finding the right help
Seeking and organizing is a major responsibility that caregivers get to deal with. It is considered as their job to look for formal services for their client whenever necessary.
4. Encouraging the care recipient
This can also help the care recipient feel strong and able to get through difficult times. Feeling worthy and in control can massively put an effect on the care patient’s health.
5. Taking care of oneself
Self-care is extremely crucial as the job of a caregiver is exhausting in nature. Caregivers are always advised to maintain the state of their mental and physical health to be able to handle the stress of the job.
Key Points For Caregivers
Caregivers must keep these following points in mind while dealing with a care patient, irrespective of their mental or physical condition:
Privacy should be allowed in every situation, especially when demanded. Care recipients must be left with privacy for private conversations and visits.
2. Self Respect
Self respect helps a human being outgrow or bear through anything. Thus, it is important to treat the care recipient with respect and love. Having faith in oneself does wonders even in the most tough cases.
3. Adjusting into new environment
Care recipients may find new physical activities as very difficult at first. The caregiver and their way of caregiving can be even new to the care patient in many cases. Thus, treating them with patience is necessary as the process of adapting into new circumstances and routines can be longer for certain people.
Often caregivers face physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion due to the burden and stressful environment of carrying out duties that are equally difficult to perform on a quotidian basis. The feeling of burnout in caregivers may appear in the form of fatigue, excessive stress, anxiety or depression. The symptoms can be noticed usually by a change in the caregiver’s attitude. They might seem negative and unconcerned, rather than positive and caring in this state. According to a 2012 study 9 , caregiving “is commonly perceived as a chronic stressor, and caregivers often experience negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health.” The researchers believe that as caregivers constantly encounter various “concurrent stressful events” and rigid stress, they experience multiple health issues due to “immune and autonomic dysregulation.”
Another 2008 study 10 found that caregivers frequently experience chronic stress as the job causes psychological and physical strain over time due to high degrees of uncontrollability and unpredictability. It can also affect different aspects of their life, such as career, education, personal and social relationships, personal hygiene etc. “Clinical observation and early empirical research showed that assuming a caregiving role can be stressful and burdensome,” adds the study. The condition usually worsens when the caregiver does not seek proper help in time, or if they physically or financially exhaust themselves by trying to work more than their capabilities. In some cases, caregivers exhibit feelings of guilt if they spend time and energy for themselves and not for their elderly or ill care recipient. Following are some of the symptoms of caregiver burnout 11 which are similar to the symptoms of depression and stress:
- Isolation and withdrawal from socializing.
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Feeling irritable, hopeless and helpless.
- Change in appetite and/or weight.
- Change in sleep patterns.
- Low immunity power
- Self harming behaviors 12 , and in some cases, the urge to harm the one they are caring for.
Read More About Withdrawal Here
How To Avoid Potential Burnout In Caregivers?
The job of caregivers being both physically and emotionally draining in nature, the caregivers are asked to keep these points in mind while managing their care patient’s needs:
1. Accepting the new role of caregiving
This can help the caregiver have a positive outlook overall. Many people try to think of their job as a noble way of helping others.
2. Building a group of caregivers
Getting help from other caregivers can also be a good way of dealing with work pressure and stress, as relieving one another from their duties from time to time can help in forming a group of caregivers where people with similar responsibilities can vent out and ask each other for help.
3. Talking it out with friends and family
Caregivers tend to suffer from isolation and burnout due to extreme stress. Sharing one’s feelings and thoughts with close associates can help in relieving caregiver burnout.
4. Seeking professional help in need
The stress of the job can be overwhelming for certain people or affect caregivers from time to time. Caregivers are advised to seek professional help without any delay whenever they feel overly anxious or stressed-out.
Caring For Everyone
Caring is what everyone needs in times of great adversaries and distress. Caregiving is respected and recognized worldwide as a noble occupation or service as there are many people out there, of different ages and backgrounds, of different needs and care. The act of caregiving can prove to be beneficial for the ones in dire need of emotional or physical assistance, but the ones providing the care may fall into the trap of self depreciation and exhaustion.
It is crucial to remember that caregivers are human beings as well and that they must serve their own needs from time to time, to maintain their mental and physical well-being. The slope can be slippery, but with early diagnosis and treatment, caregivers can help themselves when they feel burnout. Caregivers are often suggested by the professionals to think of caring as a basic need for all human beings rather than a duty. Therefore, they can be able to prioritize their own health while providing for another person’s necessity of assistance.
Caregiving At A Glance
- Caregiving is the simple act of providing care for a friend, family member or an individual in need.
- It is a critical job that requires a hefty amount of effort toward ensuring the wellness of both physical and mental health of the person in need.
- Anyone who provides care for another person, like spouses, children, parents, grandchildren, friends, partners, is a caregiver.
- Caregivers are considered as a part of the universal health care team.
- The feeling of burnout in caregivers may appear in the form of fatigue, excessive stress, anxiety or depression.
- Caregivers are often suggested by professionals to think of caring as a basic need for all human beings rather than a duty.
- Scoggin, A. (1999). Caregiving as an occupation: Developmental intervention for a group of hospitalised Peruvian children. Journal of Occupational Science, 6(1), 34-41. https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.1999.9686449
- Shaji, K. S., & Reddy, M. S. (2012). Caregiving: a public health priority. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 34(4), 303–305. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.108191
- Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults; Board on Health Care Services; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Schulz R, Eden J, editors. Families Caring for an Aging America. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2016 Nov 8. 3, Family Caregiving Roles and Impacts. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK396398/
- Stoller, E. P., & Pugliesi, K. L. (1989). Other roles of caregivers: Competing responsibilities or supportive resources. Journal of Gerontology, 44(6), S231-S238. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronj/44.6.s231
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- Cagle, J. G., & Munn, J. C. (2012). Long-distance caregiving: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of gerontological social work, 55(8), 682–707. https://doi.org/10.1080/01634372.2012.703763
- Goins, R. T., Spencer, S. M., & Byrd, J. C. (2011). Research on rural caregiving. Rural Caregiving in the United States, 103-130. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-0302-9_7
- Donovan, R., Williams, A., Stajduhar, K., Brazil, K., & Marshall, D. (2011). The influence of culture on home-based family caregiving at end-of-life: A case study of Dutch reformed family care givers in Ontario, Canada. Social Science & Medicine, 72(3), 338-346. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.10.010
- Bevans, M., & Sternberg, E. M. (2012). Caregiving burden, stress, and health effects among family caregivers of adult cancer patients. JAMA, 307(4), 398–403. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2012.29
- Schulz, R., & Sherwood, P. R. (2008). Physical and mental health effects of family caregiving. The American journal of nursing, 108(9 Suppl), 23–27. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000336406.45248.4c
- Penson, R. T., Dignan, F. L., Canellos, G. P., Picard, C. L., & Lynch, T. J. (2000). Burnout: Caring for the caregivers. The Oncologist, 5(5), 425-434. https://doi.org/10.1634/theoncologist.2000-0425
- Joling, K. J., O’Dwyer, S. T., Hertogh, C. M., & Van Hout, H. P. (2017). The occurrence and persistence of thoughts of suicide, self-harm and death in family caregivers of people with dementia: A longitudinal data analysis over 2 years. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 33(2), 263-270. https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.4708