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50+: Live Better, Longer

Caregivers Feel Helpless, Need Help

Home Health Agencies, Social Workers Can Help Lift Family Caregivers' Burden
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The study "demonstrates that caregivers not only experience the burdens of providing essential care to their terminally ill loved ones, but that they also extensively and frequently witness their loved ones in serious distress," researchers write. More attention should be given to these detrimental effects, they add.

If this is happening to you, "recognize that you need help," Bradley tells WebMD. "Hospice nurses take on this burden; you don't have to endure it. You may think you aren't ready to give up your responsibilities, but it makes a big difference."

Also, seek out social support, she adds. "Social support acts as a buffer in times of stress. We're saying that if you're feeling distress, don't think it's normal. Get help."

Suzanne Mintz, president and cofounder of the National Family Caregivers Association, has suffered four bouts of depression during the three decades she has taken care of her husband, who has multiple sclerosis. Although he is in a wheelchair, he works every day. But he needs help with the basics of daily life -- personal hygiene, etc., she tells WebMD.

"You have to be aware of what's going on with yourself," she advises. "If you're sad, blue, not sleeping, not eating right, you are probably depressed. One thing depression does is rob you of initiative and the ability to make good decisions. Once you start spiraling into it, you don't know you can pull yourself out without help. That's why it's so important to recognize signs of depression."

Depression can compromise your ability to be an effective caregiver, she says. "That's the message caregivers will listen to." Also, family members and friends should be aware of depressive symptoms in a caregiver.

"Getting help helps," Mintz says. "Being a caregiver is more than a one-person job. Get beyond the pride and the feeling that you're supposed to do this all yourself. That just isn't the case. If you're caring for someone bigger than you are, who needs multiple procedures, someone with dementia, you need help. You may be caring for kids, have a job -- multiple responsibilities, being tugged in so many other directions. It isn't realistic to think you can do it all alone."

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