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Being a Caregiver

By KSU Counseling Services Staff

College students, particularly those who are non-traditional ones, may often have a caregiver role. A caregiver is a person who provides help and support to another person—whether that person is a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, or others. The person receiving the care may have a chronic health condition, a mental health condition, or even a long-term injury.

Statistically, most Americans will be informal caregivers at some time in their lives. At any one time, more than 21% of the adult population in the US will be providing unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person.

Types of Caregiving Help

Caregivers often able others to live in a particular home situation, such as a disabled adult living in his or her own home. Caregivers may provide house cleaning and organizing. They may provide grocery-shopping and cooking support. They may provide transportation to medical appointments or shopping outings. They may give medicine to the individual. Some may provide bathing, toilet use support, and help with dressing. Some offer financial services, such as paying bills and managing budgets. Caregivers also provide important emotional support and company to many.

Informal vs. Formal Caregiving

Informal caregiving is done usually between family members, with the most common one being an adult child caring for an elderly parent or older relative. Informal caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the US. Sixty-one percent of caregivers are women. Most caregivers are middle-aged, but 13 percent of caregivers are aged 65 or older. Some 59 percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for the older person—and this often means having to make adjustments in their work schedules to accommodate the caregiving.

Formal caregiving involves a paid relationship, often with a homecare agency that provides vetted employees to provide various levels of care to clients.

Caregiving is often demanding and may have effects on caregivers' moods, their social lives, and their level of energy. A majority of caregivers have described the physical, social, emotional, and financial strains of caregiving. Many also say that this work is personally rewarding; caregivers know that their work is important, and much of the work also makes them feel good about themselves.

The Stresses of Caregiving

Caregiving can be a difficult role because of the physical, mental, and emotional demands on the caregiver. They may not get enough sleep or physical activity—to maintain their own lifestyle. They may not cook healthy meals for themselves.

Caregivers may experience depression or anxiety because of the responsibilities. They are more likely to have long-term medical problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. They may have a weaker immune system and more sick days due to an infectious disease.

Caregivers need to evaluate whether they are feeling stressed by their caregiving responsibilities. What is their mood? Do they feel overwhelmed? Are they getting sufficient sleep? Are they experiencing physical problems or headaches? Do they use alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs) to regulate their lives or to feel comfortable?

Respite Care

It's a good idea to find out what sorts of respite may be available so that a caretaker is not the sole support for a person with needs. Respite care (in the home, in adult day-care center, in short-term nursing homes, and in day hospitals) involves substitute caregiving, so the main caretaker can take some time away from the work.

Various communities have caregiving resources that may be helpful for the individual. These resources may be free or low-cost transportation; hot meal delivery; nursing or physical therapy services at the home; non-medical homecare; discount home modification (such as the building of wheelchair ramps, the adding of handrails); legal counseling; financial counseling, and other services.

A caregiver may reach out to other family members for back-up and help—whether that help is actual hands-on support or financial resources. It is important to decline stressful social events if those are not absolutely "necessary."

Emergency response systems for the person receiving care may enable greater support and community "surveillance" for their well-being.

A Stress Reduction Regimen

If so, it may be a good idea to engage in a stress reduction regimen. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, a balanced life, and a social life are basic elements that may help a person feel grounded. It may also be good to communicate with a mental health professional.

Evaluating the Situation

It will be important to evaluate the situation to make sure that the caregiving situation is tenable. If a person becomes unable to care for another, then both may become endangered in that situation. Having some professional oversight of the situation may be helpful to ensure that the situation stays positive and workable. 

© All staff articles are used by permission of the respective author(s). Copyright belongs to the University Life Café. No part of this may be used without authorization.

Being a Caregiver (pdf)