Caregivers need more support
With Baby Boomers retiring and the U.S. elderly population predicted to explode over the next 20 years, caring for the elderly, disabled and sick is more important than ever. Most of that care is handled by family and friends leaving them in a challenging situation.
According to a new study, cancer caregivers have many unmet personal needs as they focus their attention on others. In fact, caregivers are more distressed and express higher levels of anxiety than those they are looking after.
Researchers from Heidelberg University Hospital in Germany surveyed almost 200 pairs of cancer patients and their caregivers to find out how caregivers were coping. More than 80 percent of caregivers reported having unmet needs – with half of those naming more than ten unmet needs. Only 1 in 7 caregivers reported feeling fully supported and having all their needs met.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than a fifth of our adult population is responsible for providing care to people who are elderly or disabled and an estimated 4 million care for cancer patients.
“Caring for someone who has cancer often requires great sacrifice,” says Dr. Vasantha Kumaraiah, an oncologist affiliated with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Most caregivers have jobs outside the home and have to learn how to juggle the demands of their professional lives with the needs of their loved ones. Managing these responsibilities leaves little time or energy for self-care.”
According to the report, caregivers’ most common concerns focused on the physical or mental decline of their loved one and feelings about death and dying. They also said they needed more information to feel confident that they are helping the patient get the best care possible.
Many caregivers reported having trouble making decisions about their own lives in the face of uncertainty, lacking needed emotional support, struggling to care for themselves as well as often not eating well or sleeping enough.
Dr. Kumaraiah says hospitals and oncologists should guide patients and their caregivers to available resources in the community. Caregivers can seek support from nurses and home health care services, as well as, community organizations like the American Cancer Society and local support groups like the Cancer Support Center in Homewood, Ill.
“Anything we can do to help ease the burden is appreciated, even if it’s just arranging a ride for the patient between their doctor’s office and the hospital,” says Dr. Kumaraiah. “Caregivers are at higher risk for stress, illness and long-term medical problems and recognizing their unique needs can help us better meet them.”