VA Palo Alto Health Care System
Caregiving: Challenges and Support
Caring for a sick, injured, or aging loved one can be rewarding. At the same time, many caregivers face physical, emotional, social, and financial burdens, resulting in high stress. It is important to address caregiver stress to make sure that both you and your loved one enjoy the best possible quality of life.
Why is caregiving so stressful?
Caring for a loved one can cost time and money, which may mean fewer resources for your own needs. Many caregivers report less healthy eating, exercise, and poor sleep habits – resulting in increasing health problems.
Caregiving can also take a toll on one’s emotions. It may require physical strength or medical knowledge that you do not have, which can make you feel like you are “not good enough.” You may worry that you will do something wrong and hurt your loved one. You may face frustration or even resentment from time to time, leading to feelings of guilt. Caregiving can change the relationship with your loved one. Caring for a parent may feel like a role reversal; caring for a spouse may feel like it gets in the way of your romance.
What can you do about caregiver stress?
There are several useful steps you can take to reduce stress and help you provide better care for your loved one:
- Caregiver training: The more you know about how to care for your loved one, the less stressed you are likely to be. Ask your loved one’s medical provider for resources to build your knowledge, skills, and confidence as a caregiver.
- Counseling: Talking to a trained mental health counselor is a great way to get emotional support and learn tools for coping with your stress. Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for counseling through the VA. Talk to your medical provider or a VA social worker to learn more.
- Self-care: When you become a caregiver for someone else, it is important to also tend to your own self-care so that you do not “burn out.” Self-care is like putting your own oxygen mask on before assisting someone else on an airplane. It can include hobbies outside your role as caregiver; seeking support from friends, family, or your religious group; going to support groups for people in similar situations; or even taking a few minutes each day to do something just for yourself.
- Employing help: Others can provide needed relief. Home health aides will come to your home to help with specific tasks or to watch your loved one while you do something else. You may also be able to bring your loved one to an adult day care center, where they can engage in social activities in a safe place while you take a break.
- VA and Community resources:
• Contact VA Caregiver Support to find out if you are eligible for caregiving resources from the VA by calling 1-855-260-3274 or visiting the website.
• The Family Caregiver Alliance also has many resources.
Remember, you are not alone. Using these resources can help both you and your loved one enjoy better quality of life.
Rachel Weiler, M.S., M.Sc. (Psychology Extern)
Carey A. Pawlowski, PhD, ABPP (Rehabilitation Psychologist)
Department of Psychology, VA Palo Alto Health Care System