Planning for the unexpected: When caregiving happens without warning
When a medical emergency or sudden change in health occurs, loved ones may be thrust into a caregiving role they did not expect. Oftentimes, this can be an overwhelming change to their routine, their life and their mental health. As they begin to manage this new reality, it can sometimes be tough to find time to take care of themselves and address their needs as a caregiver.
With November being National Family Caregivers Month, John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network, is giving advice and insights for caregivers — as well as the people who are in caregivers’ lives — as part of a “#CaregivingHappens” campaign. The effort focuses on moments of caregiving, big and small, and how to support a caregiver to help make their lives easier.
John answered a few questions on what caregivers should know.
Before we jump in: Why was the Caregiver Action Network founded? What does it do?
Caregiver Action Network (CAN) is the nation’s leading family caregiver organization working to improve the quality of life for the more than 90 million Americans who care for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, diseases or the frailties of old age. CAN serves a broad spectrum of family caregivers ranging from the parents of children with significant health needs to the families and friends of wounded soldiers; from a young couple dealing with a diagnosis of MS, to adult children caring for parents with Alzheimer’s disease. CAN (the National Family Caregivers Association) is a nonprofit organization providing education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers across the country free of charge.
What does the phrase “Caregiving Happens” mean to you?
To me, Caregiving Happens is just a fact of a caregiver’s life. Caregiving responsibilities don’t stop because you’re at work, traveling or have other things to do. Caregiving happens unexpectedly. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. It may cause you to miss other life events.
Can you provide some tips for caregivers to take care of themselves while they are caregiving?
It’s important that caregivers take care of their own health so they can be strong enough to care for their loved one. This is so important that we have an entire section of our website devoted to Staying Strong While Caregiving. As a caregiver, you need to find ways to relieve your stress and anxiety:
- Ask other family or friends for help
- Focus on what you are able to do, it does not need to be perfect
- Look for caregiving resources in your community and find a good support group
- Make sure you eat well and get enough exercise
- Take time for yourself; educate yourself on your loved one’s condition; and call CAN’s free Caregiver Help Desk — whatever helps you
What is important for people who are not caregivers to understand about caregiving?
Caregiving can be a 24/7 commitment. Often, a family caregiver doesn’t have time to devote to other family, friends or their own interests. If a family caregiver needs to cancel lunch plans, it’s not because they don’t want to see you. Their loved one needs them. For employers, a caregiver who is late to work may be with their loved one.
How can people who are not caregivers better support people who are?
For employers, providing greater flexibility and not requiring employees to work full-time from the office can help reduce demands on their time. Studies show that when employers are empathetic, understanding and appreciative of the experience of their employees, it has a positive impact on the overall work experience for employees and results in greater engagement and retention.
For the family and friends of a family caregiver, there are a number of things that you can do to help relieve their burden. Offer to help them with specific errands and chores — and mean it. Provide them with emotional support by really listening when they need to talk and not making judgments. Arrange to take over their caregiving responsibilities for a few hours so they can have some time for themselves.
What do you see as the future of caregiving?
With the aging demographic, we will continue to see the need for caregivers grow. I think the pandemic helped highlight some of the difficulties that caregivers have faced for some time, as well as create new challenges, and we will need to continue advocating for policies that help caregivers navigate them.
For caregiving resources from UnitedHealthcare, visit uhc.com/caregiving.