Health

Caring for the Caregiver

By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group

Eileen Wyner, NP

Living with diabetes is a full time job for the patient, but what about their loved ones and family members? How do they cope with this disease and all of its implications? I would like to address the concerns of the caregivers today and how everyone can work together successfully.

Many people living with diabetes are perfectly able to care for all parts of their disease independently. However people who are visually impaired, have arthritis (particularly if their hands are involved), the elderly, and people with impaired mental functioning may require assistance in managing their diabetes. Their caregivers may include family members with whom they live or people who come to their homes as needed. The patient may work with just one person or there may be a team of caregivers available to assist.

Allow yourself to think for a minute about all that goes into daily self-care for a person living with diabetes. There are glucometer checks, medications and possibly self-titrating of insulin, meal adjustments, and the chance of unforeseen complications like hypoglycemia or an illness. Now think how stressful and difficult these responsibilities may be for a caregiver, especially for someone requiring a high level of assistance. Just as the person with diabetes can get overwhelmed and fatigued by their daily care, so too can the caregiver. That is when the caregiver needs the care.

Hopefully, if there is a team of people pitching in, no one will feel overburdened. However, many times there is just one person closely involved with the patient and it may be more difficult to realize the caregiver is suffering. It’s important that all involved in the patient’s care, including the health care team, check in with each other to see how things are going. Try to pick up on subtle clues such as off handed comments by the caregiver(s) like “I don’t always have time to get everything done, there is so much to do” or “I’m so tired all the time.” Also try to be aware of any changes in demeanor such as being impatient or more withdrawn, possible signs of fatigue or depression.

Schedules are important as well, not just for the patient but for the caregiver. It helps to still do the things that are important in their daily life so that their health and well-being are maintained. It’s important for caregivers to know that it‘s perfectly fine to ask for help. It doesn’t mean that they’re doing a bad job or can’t handle the tasks — just the opposite. Providing the best care possible really does begin with a mentally and emotionally healthy caretaker. Having responsibility in someone else’s care is a difficult and stressful job. It’s important for all involved to realize this. Caretakers should feel able to discuss their feelings with the health care team. Referral to social services may be in order to assist with identifying what other community services may be available. Support groups in the area may also be a good outlet to help to cope with the situation.

Everybody needs a little help sometime. A clear channel of communication between all the parties involved will hopefully ensure a caring environment is in place for all.

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