Information for Caregivers

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A caregiver is someone who gives basic care to a person who has a medical condition, such as cancer, that prevents him or her from independently doing activities of daily living. The caregiver helps the person with tasks such as preparing and eating food, taking medicine, bathing and dressing.

As a caregiver, what can I do to make caregiving easier on me?

Being a caregiver takes a lot out of you, both physically and emotionally. It’s important to your own health not to ignore your needs while you care for someone else. The following are some things you can do to make sure you stay as healthy as possible during your loved one’s illness.

Make wellness a priority. You may feel like you have to “do it all,” regardless of the toll it takes on you. However, one of the most important things you can do for your loved one is to take care of yourself by doing the following:

  • Visit your doctor for regular check-ups.
  • Eat a balanced diet. This may be easier than you think because you may be sharing meals with your loved one, who will also need to eat well.
  • Get plenty of rest. If you’re short on sleep, take naps when your loved one does.
  • Get some exercise. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise 4 to 6 times a week can give you more energy, reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Do relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing or meditation) to reduce stress.
  • Take a break from caregiving. If you take some time for yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of your loved one.

Stay organized. Caregiving is often a full-time job, but you may be doing it on top of your other responsibilities, such as a paid job or taking care of your children. Make a schedule with your family. This will help all of you stay organized and will help you manage the demands on your time. Don’t forget to schedule time for things you enjoy, such as visiting with friends or going out to dinner or a movie.

Create a support team. Plan for times when you’ll need help by making a list of people who are willing to help. Family members, friends and temporary care workers can give you a break or help out when you can’t be there. On your list, include phone numbers, the times people are available and the tasks they feel most comfortable doing. Keep a copy of the list with you at all times in case you’re away from home when you need to ask someone for help.

A growing number of social media resources provide services for people who have illnesses to more easily get help and support from others. Online tools and phone apps are available to help cancer patients manage information about their care, give status updates and organize help from volunteers such as family, friends and others in the community.

Set boundaries. Accept that there is a limit to what you can do as a caregiver. Recognize when you feel overwhelmed and ask for help in caring for your loved one.

Is it normal to have so many different feelings about being a caregiver?

Caring for a loved one who is seriously ill is never easy. At times you may feel scared, angry, sad or lonely. You may also feel guilty. All of these feelings are normal, but you must learn to tell them apart from the signs of depression and stress-overload. These signs are listed in the box below. Call your doctor if you notice any of these signs. He or she can help.

Signs of Stress-Overload

  • Excessive anger toward the person you care for, your family or yourself
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Irritability
  • Health problems (such as catching a series of colds or flu)

Signs of Depression

  • No interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad, hopeless or helpless
  • Crying easily or for no reason
  • Feeling slowed down or feeling restless and irritable
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Change in appetite; unintended weight loss or gain
  • Trouble recalling things, concentrating or making decisions
  • Headaches, backaches or digestive problems
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or not enough)
  • Thoughts about death or suicide
  • Loss of interest in sex

How can I cope with my emotions?

Talk to your loved one and your family. You may feel that you shouldn’t burden people with your feelings because you’re not the one who is sick. However, talking about the illness and how you feel can help relieve stress. If your loved one is unable to participate, be sure to talk about how you are feeling with other family members or friends who can provide support.

Educate yourself about cancer. Find out all you can about the kind of cancer your loved one has, the treatment he or she is going through and its side effects. Being informed can give you a sense of control. Your loved one’s doctor, support groups, the Internet and libraries are good resources for more information.

Join a support group. Support groups give you the opportunity to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through similar situations. Your doctor can suggest ways to find a support group, or you can contact the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute (see information under “Other Organizations”).

Seek counseling. Recognizing that you need help takes strength and courage. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with a counselor about how you’re feeling. Your family doctor can refer you to a doctor or therapist who specializes in the kind of counseling that’s best for you.

Other Organizations