Caring for the caregivers

Caregiving is a ministry.  A caregiver is usually defined as an unpaid friend or family member who provides caring assistance for someone who suffers a long term physical or emotional illness.

As my wife and I have journeyed alongside members of our own families in their battles with cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease, we have both experienced firsthand the benefits of caregivers and caregiving organizations.  And we are too well- acquainted with the personal toll of being a caregiver.

The National Center for Caregiving says that “nearly one out of every four U.S.households (23 percent or 22.4 million households) is involved in caregiving to persons age 50 or over.

Those who need caregivers include persons suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer patients, accident victims who are in therapy or rehabilitation, the elderly, and those with mental disorders.

A recent survey by the National Family Caregivers Association, an organization dedicated to helping family caregivers, found that 48 percent of caregivers cared for spouses, 24 percent for parents, and 19 percent for children.  The survey also revealed that 85 percent of all home care is provided by family and friends.

In addition to becoming extremely tired or physically exhausted, caregivers often become anxious, distressed, or depressed.  If the friend or family member for which care is given declines in health or dies, the caregiver may go through a compounded or extended season of grief.

Caregivers need care also.  Caregivers must care for themselves and they must allow themselves to receive care and encouragement from a friend, from a support group, or from their church.

Various caregiving organizations offer suggestions for assisting individuals and groups in caring for caregivers.  One organization offers the following tips which may be helpful to caregivers:

*    Choose to take charge of your life, and don’t let your loved one’s illness or disability always take center stage.

*    Remember to be good to yourself.  Love, honor and value yourself. You’re doing a very hard job and you deserve some quality time, just for you.

*    Watch out for signs of depression, and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.

*    When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things they can do.

*    Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition. Information is empowering.

*    There’s a difference between caring and doing.  Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.

*    Trust your instincts.  Most of the time they will lead you in the right direction.

*    Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.

*    Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and a citizen.

*    Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.

Caregiving is an appreciated ministry.  But taking care of the caregiver is also a valuable and necessary ministry.


Barry Howard

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Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.

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