Get help and support
It is very important for caregivers to get help and support to avoid feeling stressed, burned out, and depressed. This article lists and describes some sources of emotional and practical support, including support groups, therapists, friends and family, in-home caregivers, and respite services.
The importance of getting help and support
It is very important for caregivers to get help and support to avoid feeling stressed, burned out, and depressed. They need emotional support to help them cope with the difficult feelings and mental strain of caregiving. They need practical physical support to ease their workload and keep caregiving from taking over their lives.
Caregivers who get support have better quality of life, are less likely to feel depressed, and are slower to put the person receiving care in a nursing home than those who don’t.1 Many of the causes of caregiver stress syndrome can be reduced by creating a team of supporters, being clear and specific about what tasks need to be covered, and giving others plenty of notice, so that they can free up their schedule.
Support groups offer caregivers emotional support and a sense of community. Because the other group members are going through similar experiences, the caregiver can feel safe and validated when sharing their emotions and experiences. The social networks and new friendships that many caregivers form in support groups are often major positives of the caregiving experience.
Support groups also offer information and advice, which can make the caregiver feel more competent and able to cope with their tasks. Those who feel uncomfortable talking in groups can still benefit from listening to others share their experiences. Caregiver support groups will often offer activities for the person receiving care that happen at the same time as the caregiver session.
Although online support groups may not lead to the same local support network as in-person groups, they are generally more flexible and convenient. In addition, some caregivers feel more comfortable talking about their feelings to people who are not from their area.
There are thousands of in-person and online support groups across the United States. Some are led by caregivers and others by trained facilitators. There are groups specifically for caregivers and groups for those whose loved one has a particular condition, such as dementia or cancer. Caregivers can find both local and online support groups through the nearest Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which they can locate by inserting their zip code into the Eldercare Locator. Local hospitals and community centers also usually have lists of local support groups.
Therapists and other mental-health professionals
Talking to a therapist, counselor, or psychologist can bring the caregiver great emotional relief and give them a new perspective. The process can help them sort out their feelings, give them a place to vent uncomfortable emotions such as frustration or resentment toward the person receiving care, and remind them to put self-care before care of others.
Some types of therapy are individual, group, family, caregiver group therapy, and pastoral counselor (which may feature prayer and discussion of spirituality in addition to traditional therapy).
Friends and family
Getting help and support from family members and friends is an important move in preventing caregiver stress and burnout. Although one family member usually becomes the main caregiver, other family members and family friends can provide valuable secondary help.
In setting up a schedule of regular help from family members, it is useful to hold a family meeting to sort out which family member will be responsible for which tasks (e.g., buying food, tracking medication, taking the care recipient to appointments). Tasks can be given to each family member according to their strengths, availability, and relationship with the care recipient. Long-distance family members can help by doing online tasks—for example, paying bills and researching home-care companies. They might also be able to schedule visits to give the primary caregiver a break.
Friends often want to help but are unsure how. To orient non-family helpers, it is useful to write out a care plan (the CDC’s Caregiving Care Plan Form is available on their Caregiving webpage) that includes a list of tasks and which ones most need doing.
Hiring in-home caregivers can greatly ease the primary caregiver’s burden. Available services include companion care, personal care aides (PCAs), home health aides (HHAs), nursing assistants (LNAs and CNAs), and skilled nursing providers. Medicare’s Home Health Compare offers information on all home health agencies in the caregiver’s area, including what services they provide and how patients rate them.
- Companion caregivers keep the person company. They may simply be someone to talk to, or they may do activities such as walks and board games, or other non-medical tasks, such as driving the person to appointments, cooking meals, washing dishes, and doing laundry.
- Personal care aides often provide custodial care, such as helping the person receiving care bathe, dress, and brush their teeth, changing continence pads, and maintaining a catheter bag.
- Home health aides and nursing assistants have at least 75 hours of training and are certified by the state. Along with helping with routine activities, they perform some clinical-care tasks, such as monitoring a person’s vital signs and physical condition and giving them medication (with a nurse or doctor’s supervision).
- Skilled nursing providers, also known as licensed practical nurses, can perform more medical tasks, such as giving intravenous drugs and shots and changing dressings.
Respite services give the caregiver a break by taking over their duties for hours or days. Respite services include adult daycares, respite volunteers, and respite care facilities.
- Adult daycares offer the person socialization, meals, and recreation for part or all of a day. The National Adult Day Services Association can provide good general information about adult day care facilities.
- Respite volunteers visit people in facilities such as hospices, hospitals, and care homes, relieving the primary caregiver of their duties for a short time.
- Respite care facilities are apartment complexes and older person’s residences that allow the person receiving care to stay for up to a few weeks, with trained staff supporting them.
Adult day care
Anticipate impacts on your personal life
Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable
Balance care responsibilities
Create a care plan
Deal with caregiver burnout
Deal with caregiver depression
Find trusted sources of help
Join a caregiver community
Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration
Take care of yourself emotionally
Take care of yourself physically
External supporting content
1Studies Show Benefits of Caregiver Support Programs. National Institutes of Health.