When someone is diagnosed with a disease such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, they do not suffer alone.
In fact, 39.8 million caregivers provide unpaid care to an adult with a disability or illness—or 16.6 percent of Americans—according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. For those who live with the one they’re caring for, the responsibilities become a fulltime job, with spouses or children or partners averaging more than 44 hours per week in meeting a wide-ranging set of needs. These can including everything from feeding and dressing to shopping and paying the bills.
November is the month we remember caregivers, and the support system required to provide for those with serious illnesses.
As caregivers themselves can attest, the work can take a toll.
One recent literature review of research on the caregiving community found the following:
- 13 percent of caregivers to those suffering from an advanced stage of cancer could be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder
- Family caregivers tend to display the same tendency toward depression as their patient
- Husbands whose wives are going through chemo for breast cancer suffer from poorer mental health than the general population
- Women, young people, husbands and wives, poor people and those who don’t themselves have support from family and friends suffer disproportionately from the demands of caregiving
- Those who assist in the care of those dealing with long-term illness or recurrence themselves suffer disproportionately from health problems such as heart disease and hypertension.
And so on…
So how DO you cope when a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness?
- Acknowledge the “new normal”: Life has changed, and adjustments will be required. And that means not only taking care of the needs of your loved one but also taking care of yourself.
- Ask for help: People are willing and want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Whether it be dinners on treatment day or help picking up the kids from school or caring for pets, don’t be afraid to reach out to family, neighbors and friends. They may not know what to say, so most will jump at the opportunity to “do.”
- Take control of your care: The parade of specialists, tests and treatment options can make you feel entirely out of control of both the disease and the process. Doing some personal research can help you ask better questions, explore treatment options and give you a sense of purpose and command of the process. And it’s likely you will get better care.
- Take care of your health: Find time to exercise, meditate, do a yoga class, anything that helps you restore and maintain body and soul. Don’t ignore physical symptoms you may be suffering yourself. Staying healthy and fit is important for both you and the loved one who needs you.
- Have fun: Give yourself and your patient a break. Take a day to do something fun when body permits. Invest time in things you both enjoy.
- Be thankful: Focusing on the good, even if it’s just the blue sky or clean laundry, helps makes it easier to handle the bad stuff. Research shows that optimism and attitude do have an impact on the outcome of a disease.