May brings spring flowers. It’s also a time to acknowledge family caregivers and the vital role they play in our healthcare system and in the lives of their loved ones.
While caregiving is unique to every person, it’s a common family experience. Almost 30 per cent of British Columbians are in a caregiving role. With 1,000 calls to the support line last year, we had the privilege to have caregivers share their stories. We listened and here’s a small glimpse into what they said.
Caregivers provide support in many ways. Sometimes it’s a daily check-in call, other times it’s transferring someone from their wheelchair to the bed. In some cases, it’s caring for a grandchild while the parent undergoes surgery or treatment. Caregiving can be short in duration during a terminal illness or for over 10 years caring for someone with a chronic illness or mental health challenge. Regardless what they are doing or for how long, it’s often an emotional journey with ups and downs and twisty turns.
There is a desire to care even if it isn’t always easy. When caregivers call for support, we often hear about exhaustion, stress levels, feeling unsure about next steps or concern for how to get more help. We also hear dedication to their role and their desire to care for the person who is ill. One of the best things we can do is make space to listen to someone who is caregiving (notice there is no mention of advice giving – unless asked).
Caregivers are found at every point across the care continuum. Caregivers are found attending a doctor’s appointment, responding to a call from the emergency department or caring for someone they love at hospice or in hospital. Knowing how to communicate and navigate a complicated healthcare system are helpful skills to have and learn.
Caregivers can be hard on themselves. All too often, we hear from caregivers, “I need to be a better caregiver.” “I shouldn’t be so quick to anger with my spouse.” “I should make more time for myself.” “I need to take better care of myself.” Our “should” and “need” attitude creates judgment, which can lead to self-criticism and negatively impact the caregiver. Prioritizing self-care isn’t easy. Caregivers can especially feel they need to do it all or feel guilty about taking time for themselves.
One of the best places to start is simply being kinder to oneself with the same understanding and care we’d give to a friend, a stranger or the person for whom we are caring. Doing this one thing can lead to increased resiliency and being able to continue caring.
Caregivers have a voice and want to be heard. Caregivers want to be valued and recognized; however, it isn’t always easy to speak up or ask for help. At times, caregivers aren’t included in planning – be it in personal or health care. Asking them how they are doing or asking them what one thing would help them most in caring is a wonderful way to show support.