When you’re in the middle of caring for a loved one, asking for help is one of the best things you can do for your well-being.
“Studies show how caregivers, especially caregivers of those with dementia, have a higher risk of health problems, poor quality of life and even dementia themselves,” says Lindsey Dahl, MD, a specialist in geriatric and internal medicine at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota. “It’s imperative people get supports in place so that they can take care of themselves.”
That support can include respite care. Respite care means any service that provides relief and the timeframe can vary anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks.
“Caregivers can have weeklong times to rest and fill their cup by going on vacation,” Dr. Dahl says.
“Or maybe all they need is someone to help with a shower for their loved one a few times a week. They can go get groceries while they do that. Even a companion that comes and sits is helpful so they can go out.”
The reality of caregiving
In Dr. Dahl’s experience, the burden of caregiving is real and often leads to poor health and quality of life due to depression, dementia or the worsening of a chronic disease.
"When people are caregivers, they forget to take care of themselves or they feel guilty taking time away,” says Dr. Dahl. “We need to get rid of that guilt.”
The financial impact of caregiving is also a major barrier. It can be a big reason for not seeking support.
“All of these things that can help relieve stress cost money. That’s why a lot of times caregivers aren’t able to get the help they need,” Dr. Dahl says.
Isolation is also a factor in caregiving. Family and friends may assume you are busy or avoid helping because they don’t want to remember this stage.
“That’s why support groups are essential because you can find people who are going through what you’re going through,” states Dr. Dahl.
The signs are different for everyone, but it’s usually time to find caregiving support when it starts affecting your health or there are safety issues for you or the person you’re caring for.
If you don’t accept help, your loved one might need to move to a memory care center or nursing home sooner.
The power of support
“The more you take advantage of support – respite or home health care – that extends the time in the home and decreases the amount of time they need long-term care facilities,” says Dr. Dahl.
Your doctor can provide guidance and help you on your caregiving journey. If you’re feeling run down, be honest.
“When you go to your primary care doctor, you should say, ‘I’m a caregiver and I’m stressed out.’ Bring it up so they can help you,” says Dr. Dahl.
There are many local and virtual support groups where you can share about your caregiving experiences and find support, including:
- Alzheimer’s Association
- Caregiver Action Network
- Dementia Caregivers Support Group
- Parkinson’s Buddy Network
- VA Caregiver Support
- Well Spouse Association
- Working Daughter
Dr. Dahl is passionate about supporting both seniors and their family members.
“I think it’s ok to take time for yourself. It’s imperative so you can be the best caregiver you can be. There are lots of resources out there,” Dr. Dahl says.