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Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD
It is estimated that there are approximately 45 million people in the United States providing care for a loved one, relative or friend with many diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's. Caregiving requires a high level of responsibility but can cause devastating emotional and physical problems, as well as a financial toll on many families. Caregivers, as well as families, often have an increased amount of stress, depression, fatigue, and physical and mental problems.
Recent research studies have shown that supportive care for caregivers is important, and, often, they need rest periods and respond well to supportive telephone conversations, counseling, and in-home training assistance. Studies have shown that even brief periods of supportive counseling and periodic rest retreats can have very beneficial effects in reducing the physical and psychological burden of the caregiving process. An organization, cancercare.org, has a podcast of their workshop for coping with a cancer patient with advice on care, as well as how to deal with family problems, holidays, and other issues.
It is important for caregivers to reduce their own stress levels and accept additional help as needed.
Financial resources are often expended rapidly, and sometimes because of the extensive need for care, a working relative will quit her job to become the caregiver.
Thus, caregiving can be a challenging change for a family member or friend, but with proper guidance, nursing help and directions, the quality of life for patients can be enhanced during this difficult period of life.
Those who have religious or spiritual beliefs often find both meaning and help during the stressful period of having cancer, and the need of caregiver support. Their faith helps support and provide meaning for how they live through the end phase of the cancer process. Prayer often has value in maintaining faith no matter what the future will be, turning over one's fate to God and accepting what they believe is God's role in their fate, one hopes that God will help protect not only themselves but also their family and friends, as well as hope for a better outcome, whether it be reduced suffering and pain or a peaceful end-of-life.
Assessment of the Caregiver Role
The major role is supporting both the physical and psychological needs of the patient, as well as meeting the positive and negative expectations as much as possible, and improving quality of life through a very difficult period. Their services go beyond just duty, as there is a strong emotional bond component between caregiver and patient/family. By giving, one offers a personal satisfaction that is often the major reward gained by the caregiver as she meets current and future needs. The caregiver's empathy and compassion in managing multiple problems often becomes a totally encompassing role. Caring for people with advanced disease, dementia, or Alzheimer's requires a special attitude and the ability to adjust to each patient and family's physical and personal problems, which usually gives the caregiver a great deal of personal satisfaction from a difficult job.
The prior experience of the caregiver is very helpful in delivering care and coping with existing and future problems. It is a difficult task to take care of a sick person, whom you often learn to love and have both empathy and compassion for and see failure, which is the usual path in palliative care. This requires a great deal of inner personal strength and faith in one's job.
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