More than 65 million spouses, partners, family members, friends and neighbors are providing care to others who are ill, disabled or aged across the United States every day. Primarily between the ages of 18 and 49, America’s caregivers are usually juggling full or part-time work and often find themselves sandwiched between the care of an elderly person and children of their own.

It’s not a surprise that the majority of caregivers who are employed suffer work-related difficulties and have to rearrange their schedules, cut their hours or take unpaid leaves of absence to meet their caregiving responsibilities. Studies show staggering economic costs: $3 trillion in lost wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits for those over 50 caring for aging parents while absenteeism by working caregivers translates to between $17.1 and $33 billion in lost productivity annually.

The reasons for absenteeism range from needing to take loved ones to medical appointments to the lack of caregiving assistance. On average, caregivers spend more than 20 hours a week providing care. Those who live with their care recipient spend almost 40 hours a week, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. And while taking care of a loved one is often a rewarding and positive experience, the demands and stress of the role can take a heavy toll on a caregiver’s mental and physical health.

However, there are a variety of actions that a caregiver can take to reduce stress and avoid burnout. One of the most effective is to seek support from friends, family members and community resources. Caregivers should not forget to care for themselves and schedule time in their day and week to do just that, whether it be spending some quiet time alone, enjoying the company of friends, or taking part in a relaxing activity or hobby.

There are many health and wellness resources that can help a caregiver manage all their responsibilities. When a family member needs assistance recovering from surgery, injury or illness, home health services can provide the care needed at home, offering a wide spectrum of services provided by healthcare professionals. Home health staff provides and coordinates the care and therapy ordered by a physician.

A plan of care is developed to improve and maintain the person’s physical, mental and social well being.

In the greater Lynchburg region, caregivers can turn to Centra PACE, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. PACE is a comprehensive program for adults 55 years of age and older who live in the PACE service area and meet the criteria for nursing home placement, prefer to stay at home and have an assessment indicating that living at home with the support of the PACE program is a safe alternative.

With PACE, a nurse is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and as a caregiver, it is reassuring to know that if you are alone at home with your loved one and something happens, you can pick up the phone and ask for help.

Caregivers of persons with a life-limiting condition and a prognosis of less than six months can turn to hospice services for support. Hospice care is a philosophy that is committed to helping a person live out the last months, weeks and days of life as fully as possible regardless of age, race, culture or diagnosis. This care also extends to family, caregivers and friends.

A full-time caregiver is not required for a patient to be enrolled in hospice.

A caregiver can continue working with the comfort of knowing that a hospice nurse is coming into the home, usually once or twice a week, to check on the patient and is in charge of taking care of the patient’s medications. Because hospice offers 24-hour access to nurses and doctors, caregivers always have access to someone when they have a concern. And because hospice is a multidisciplinary service, there is support for caregivers, too, which helps to relieve the stress associated with end-of-life care.

Although it is not possible to eliminate all the stress and demands of caregiving, it is important for caregivers to find ways to cope. By taking advantage of community resources such as Centra PACE, hospice and other home health services, caregivers can continue working, remain productive members of their communities, have time for themselves and their families as well as find relief from some of the daily responsibilities of caregiving.

By Dr. Verna Sellers,
Medical Director, Centra PACE