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Caring for the Caregiver

Life as a Caregiver

Caring for the Caregiver

Vivian cared for her mom a long time at home -- about seven years. She admits that it wasn't easy. She found a part-time caregiver who came in during afternoons, when her mother wasn't in day care.

"I was very fortunate to find someone who stayed with us the whole time," she tells WebMD. "Mother knew her and felt comfortable with her. I knew I would get a phone call if anything was wrong."

But in the evenings and on weekends, it was Vivian who looked after her mother. The physical demands of it all -- including constantly having to lift her mother from bed to wheelchair -- were very, very difficult. Vivian was afraid it was going to permanently hurt her back.

Emotional burnout is a very real possibility, due to the isolation and physical demands of caregiving, she says.

In fact, 50% of caregivers show symptoms of clinical depression, Kelly tells WebMD. About 60% have health problems. Older caregivers -- spouses -- are the most stressed and depressed, she says, and most likely to die early.

"I had my emotional ups and downs," Vivian says. "Partly it was watching mother deteriorate, and the stress of having to be responsible for someone. I never want to be aware of what goes on in someone's body. You have to be aware of everything. It's overwhelming."

She turned to a nursing home only during the last stages of her mother's illness.

"It makes people wild when I say it, but to me it was very rewarding," she tells WebMD. "It was a chance to give back to the person who gave me life. I have met some wonderful, caring people -- nurses, doctors, social workers -- who really do have people's best interests at heart. And I've ended up changing a lot. It's a sad way to learn about yourself, but it's life."

Today, Vivian moderates an email support group for the National Caregiver Alliance. She's seen it help bring together all sorts of people, all in the same boat. "We give tips, support, a pat on the back for having done something. Someone says, 'I got away for three days.' We say, 'Bravo to you.' It's a community of people out there who are all going through the same thing."

She's heartened by the growing numbers of community services to help such families. She urges them to seek help, even if it goes against their first instincts.

"People say, 'we're strong, we'll do it ourselves,'" she says. "But even if you have a big family, you are eventually going to need outside help.'


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