Support Care Givers

Definition of a Care Giver

The focus of this statement is on those men and women who are personally engaged in regularly providing direct free physical and psychological care to a relative or friend who has suffered from some long-term physical impairment. So it is not particularly addressed to doctors, nurses, assistant nurses, counselors, therapists, lawyers, ministers, priests, rabbis, or other professionals or workers who are paid to provide caring services for those who are physically impaired or otherwise unable to care for themselves. Its concern is for those sons and daughters or wives and husbands who are trying to help an elderly mother or father or spouse cope with the physical impairments of old age or a disease or injury who are no longer able to live in their home, but are in a nursing home or special treatment facility. But its concern is also for those mothers and fathers and grandparents or other relative who are caring for that handicapped child or injured veteran who needs a lot of special physical assistance to make it through the day even though they are still living at home. And its concern is for that neighbor or friend who just looks in on his or her impaired friend every day or so just to see how he or she is doing and to spend some time with him or her.

This kind of care giving is special

Anyone who is engaged in this kind of service should recognize that the type of care that they are giving is special. It is significally different from any of the services that are provided by any of the professionals. It is not a service that can be bought. Its special distinction is displayed by the regular devoted, compassionate, and loving care that is being freely provided to the impaired individual. Professionals may be devoted, compassionate, and loving in the care that they provide for their patients and clients, but their service and responsibilities have a limited time-frame attached to them, so their care does not have the constant pressures associated with it that is experienced by those relatives or friends who are engaged in trying to regularly provide some physically care for an impaired loved one or friend. Such care givers have a difficult time getting away from the challenges of the services that they are seeking to provide.

Although this type of care giving from a loving relative or friend is special and free, there may be some degree of compulsion associated with it. The giving relative or friend may see it as somewhat of a duty that is a part of his or her relationship with the impaired relative or friend or spouse. The giver may view the giving of personal service as an effort to pay the mother or father for years of care while he or she was growing up. The mother or father or grandparent or other relative may see the giving of such care as a responsible act in keeping with the meaning of being part of a family. These are legitimate perspectives on such free regular caring services, but nevertheless such feelings of compulsion or duty carry with them a weight that is added to the challenges and pressures that are encountered in such care giving. So the care giver needs to be able to acknowledge the presence of this added weight and be able to deal with it when it becomes uncomfortable.

The nature of such non-professional care giving

Although the relative or friend is not able to prescribe the appropriate medicine or therapy that is being used to treat their impaired relative or friend, they may administer or help to administer it from time to time. Although the relative or friend is not engaged with the impaired individual as a counselor, his or her caring presence and personal services have their psychological and spiritual benefits. Although conversation with the impaired individual may be somewhat limited or even impossible, the few words that are expressed or exchanged are filled with special meanings of love and encouragement. Although the touch of the caring relative or friend may not impart any miraculous healing or restored strength to the impaired individual, it is nevertheless comforting and encouraging. Although the fluffing of the impaired individual’s pillow, or the straightening of his or her covers, or the slight adjustment to his or her position may not be done with the same efficiency as that which is provided by the professional, it is nevertheless being provided when its need is perceived. Although the cookies or sweet desert may not be on the diet for the impaired relative or friend, they may nevertheless be especially tasty and good. Although the bouquet of flowers or the blooming plant may not be the most expensive one that the florist has available or the gardener at the nursing home has cultivated, its gift from the care giving relative or friend is especially beautiful and fragrant because of the loving thoughts that accompany it. Although the care may not provide complete relief from the impaired individuals discomfort or suffering, it is nevertheless greatly appreciated when it is given in the middle of the night by the one who is just down the hall and who comes without even having to be summoned by a call button or light. Although the prayers are not offered by the impaired individual’s pastor or priest or rabbi or chaplain, they are nevertheless reaching God because they reflect years and years of daily blessings and care in the relationship with God that is shared by those who are impaired and the care givers.

The care that is provided by relatives or friends may be minor in regard to how it is perceived by others, but it never regarded as being minor by the disabled or uncomfortable individual who is receiving it. Its regular and timely deliverance is a special source of blessing that may not always be acknowledged verbally. The benefits of such care may not be physically demonstrated by improvements in the particular cause of the impairment in the individual. In fact, the health of the individual may continue to decline, but nevertheless there are blessings that are being received by those giving the care and those receiving the care that may not be noted on medical charts.

The frustrations encountered in such care giving

Part of the frustrations that are encountered in such expressions of care may come from the lack of improvement or the slow rate of improvement in the physical condition of the impaired relative or friend. The visits to the nursing home may be very frequent, if not daily, or the care may be provided on a daily schedule, but signs of improvement are not evident. The schedule for such visits or caring service may at times be very exhausting or even very inconvenient for the relative or friend. He or she may feel very resentful in regard to the duty or responsibility that seems to be imposed upon him or her. He or she may feel very ineffective, unappreciated, or lonely in providing the regular care that is needed for his or her loved relative or friend. Such care givers may not always understand the limitations that are experienced by the professionals in their efforts to care for the relative or friend who has been entrusted into their care. The relative or friend may wonder why can’t these professionals or don’t they do more for their impaired patients. The care giver may even become angry with the professionals if they suspect that their loved relative or friend is being neglected or somehow abused. The care giver may even become frustrated with God from time to time if he doesn’t seem to be hearing or answering the relative’s or friend’s prayers as he or she would like him to do. The response or interaction that takes place between the care giver and the impaired relative or friend may be so limited or even missing that this difficulty in communication becomes a source of frequent frustration in providing the needed care. This could be the case in severe stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, long-term comas, or physical disorders that effect one’s speech functions or general cognitive abilities. It is especially hard to watch a loved relative or friend slowly die from physical conditions that cannot be reversed, but it is particularly frustrating when any personal reciprocal interaction with the patient is gone. And the person receiving the care may not always appreciate the care that is being given, but may even strike out in frustration and anger at the care giver because of his or her own handicapes and discomfort.

What do such care givers need?

One of the most basic needs of those who are regularly engaged in providing such personal care to a relative or friend is the need to be encouraged by others in what they are doing. This may come from words of appreciation and “thanks” from other family members and friends who for various reasons are not able to provide the regularly needed and appropriate care. Such expressions of encouragement will be a great blessing to those who are engaged in such ministries of personal service. Assistance with the care or even providing it from time to time can be a big help to those who are seeking to provide such personal and physical care for a relative or friend. Offer to make the visit if it is really inconvenient or impossible for the one who normally provides the care to provide it at a particular time when his or her presence would be expected by the impaired relative or friend. Make a special treat or desert that can be taken to the impaired relative or friend to show that others are concerned and sharing in the loving care that is being provided. This will assure the primary care giver that he or she is not alone in his or her service. Come into the care giver’s home to provide some appropriate assistance with daily chores while he or she provides the special care that is needed by the relative or friend. The care giver may need some special help in dealing with the financial matters or financial records of the disabled relative or friend. This kind of responsibility may be a new challenge for the care giver if he or she has not had to do it on a regular basis before. Or just come over to the home or apartment of the elderly care giving mother or father who is trying very hard to comfort and to meet the needs of his or her wife or husband after decades of being together through the ups and downs of their daily lives, and provide some special caring for her or him. Men and women who are regularly engaged in giving such personal care may just need a good firm hug from time to time, or a warm shoulder to lean on, or someone to accept their tears and moans of psychological pain, or someone to hold their hands and pray with them for God’s blessings for those they love. As the care that is being provided by such relatives or friends is special, the needs of these relatives or friends are also special. These needs cannot be met by the professionals.

Develop a small support group for these care givers

Individuals who are engaged in providing these kinds of caring services to loved relatives or friends on a regular basis could be greatly helped by having a small group of similarly engaged individuals with whom they could meet on a regular schedule to share personal insights and resources with each other regarding the various challenges that they encounter in their services. The opportunity to be with other individuals who are trying to give such special care to their impaired relative or friend could be very supportive. They would naturally encourage each other as they shared their experiences and blessings with each other. Of course they would pray for each other and for their impaired relatives and friends. Such support groups don’t need a professional leader, but someone could volunteer to be the host for each meeting. The meetings could be held in a church, synagogue, public hall, community center, or home. Each meeting might be scheduled for 1–1 1/2 hours in length. It would not be necessary to keep any minutes of each meeting, but it might help to prepare periodic reports of some of the basic stats to any sponsoring body that is funding or hosting such meetings. In order for such meetings to be supportive, they should be held at least once a month, but bi-weekly meetings might be most helpful. Whether they are held during evening or day hours would best be determined by local circumstances. Most support groups seem to meet during evening hours.

From time to time such meetings might provide special input from selected professionals who are engaged in caring for such impaired individuals. This would include doctors, geriatric nurses or hospice specialists, physical therapists, counselors, pastors and priests and rabbis, hospital chaplains, lawyers, financial advisors, and other such professionals who would have some particular insights and resources to share with individuals who are engaged in such care giving services. They could help these care givers understand some of the medical and psychological stresses that their impaired loved ones are experiencing and what can be done to provide them with some relief. Such professionals could explain the potential benefits of their services, but also the limitations of what they do. This might avoid some misunderstandings and faulty expectations between these different kinds of care givers. Appropriate literature and resources might be distributed at such meetings, but it should not be “spam” or commercial advertising. Consultants might be invited to such meetings to help these care givers to evaluate various types of products that are being developed and sold to assist in the care of their impaired relatives and friends. Such advice could be very helpful if it was separated from the selling of such products. Appropriate videos to help care givers with the services that they are seeking to provide could be secured from local or area sources of information, such as hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, colleges, or from the internet.

Great blessings can be experienced in such care giving

In spite of the challenges of giving such care to a relative or friend, there are many blessings to be received in such service. God loves those who love others, and he will especially strengthen and help those who are engaged in such loving and sacrificial service. Many valuable lessons regarding what is important in life and what is ultimately good can be learned in the giving of such care. The regular giving of loving care to a relative or friend is a special gift that is really GOOD, because it has benefits that will last forever.

For related topics see these statements on this website: “Encouragement”, “Friendship”, and “The Nature of Effective Prayer”.

For some excellent resources for caregivers see this website, which is a “comprehensive website designed to provide family caregivers with a broad range of expert content and information, an emerging on- line community, daily inspiration, and much needed support” Strength For Caring.