Caring for Our Caregivers

How aware are we of our loved ones and those who look out for us? Have we recently shown our appreciation for the consideration they have for us, for our plights, and for whatever difficulties we may be going through at any given moment while we live our lives with COPD?

Who is a caregiver?

The generic term for folks like these is “caregiver.”

Who is a caregiver? According to the National Council for Aging Care, a “caregiver” is anyone providing care for a person who needs extra assistance. This could mean a family caregiver, a home caregiver, or a primary caregiver, to name a few. In the context of elderly care, caregiver typically refers to a private home caregiver or senior caregiver.1

I am very fortunate

Traditionally a caregiver has been a doctor, nurse, or someone from a home care or health care agency that is hired to look after folks not quite as capable in looking after themselves as they once were. But when we stop and think about it, there are many, many more caregivers in our lives than we sometimes acknowledge.

I am very fortunate. I live at home. My most immediate caregivers are those who live with me. My wife works full-time and yet she is able to find a way to take care of many of my needs and assist me in those tasks that I can still handle with a little help. Shopping, cooking, laundry – the list goes on and on - all while bringing home a paycheck.

Help from our children

Our oldest son has taken over many of the physical domestic tasks I handled pre-COPD. He does the majority of the yard work (I can still do a little as long as I’ve got my O2 tank and backpack strung on tightly!), the snow shoveling (we live in the Northeast U.S.), the occasional plumbing fix (I can’t crawl under the sink anymore – thank goodness!), and general carpentry needs that any home-owning family faces from time to time.

Our youngest still attends college but when he’s home he’s also a Godsend. He likes to cook as well as perform other domestic duties (although we’ve never seemed to have been able to get him to keep his room neat!) Our daughter lives out on her own but since my wife has never driven a car or had a driving lesson (and has never desired to do so), she pitches in getting my wife to her destinations when she can.

Caregiver burnout

My family members are my most immediate caregivers. I try to be as conscious as possible of their love and assistance towards me and to show my gratitude towards them as often as possible. But equally as important, I try to remind them that as much as they may love me, (especially my wife) it’s important to be aware of caregiver “burnout.”

Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver's body, mind, and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue, hopelessness and ultimately burnout.2 If you’re a caregiver, especially for a family member, the demands of the role can feel overwhelming.3

Conscious of burnout at all times

It’s critical to be conscious of burnout at all times. I try to remember to tell my family that they need to give themselves a break from time to time, maybe look for a caregiver support group and for online caregiver “care” resources for themselves. Most importantly, they need to take care of their own health as well as they do mine.

The other caregivers in my life

When I stop and think about it, there are so many more folks in my life who are my caregivers. I go to pulmonary rehabilitation twice a week. And when I do, there are two wonderful women there who assist me – a registered nurse and a physical therapist. They see to my exercise needs and are always helpful when I may be SOB (short of breath) and need a glass of water.

Members of my caregiver family

There’s my favorite cash register attendant at our local supermarket, Catherine, (not her real name) who will open up a new aisle and register when she sees me waiting in a long line. From time to time, one or two of our town’s crossing guards will stop traffic to wave me through when there’s a blockage of some kind on the street.

All of these caregivers are people who I didn’t necessarily take for granted but who I am only now recognizing for who they are – extended members of my caregiver family.

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