Caregiving includes many ways to support and help a patient. Here are some common roles of a caregiver:
- Go to appointments with the patient. By having another set of eyes and ears, the patient can find his or her way more easily and have help understanding information.
- Coordinate care and services. This can involve time on the phone or completing paperwork. The more a patient can focus on recovery, the better.
- Help with day-to-day tasks such as transportation, cleaning, or grocery shopping.
- Provide emotional and spiritual support. Talking, listening, and just being there are some of the most important things a caregiver can do.
Caring for a person in the final stages of life brings unique challenges. Physical, emotional, and spiritual changes take place as the person begins to die. These changes begin the body's final process of shutting down and can help caregivers anticipate when death is near.
Here are some ways caregivers can provide comfort during this time:
- Ask if there is anything you can do.
- Be prepared to listen and allow the person to express fears and concerns about dying.
- Be willing to reminisce about the person's life.
- Keep the person company—talk, watch movies, read, or just be present.
- Respect the person's need for privacy.
- Try not to withhold difficult information. Involve the person in discussions about issues that concern him or her.
Being a caregiver takes time, work, and effort. Caregivers often tend to neglect their own physical and emotional health. Many studies show more than 50% of caregivers experience emotional and physical problems as a result of caregiver burnout, which can make it difficult to provide the attention and care the patient needs.
It is important to take steps to relieve stress and prevent caregiver burnout:
- Allow time to grieve—to cry, to feel numb, to be angry.
- Ask for help. Family members and friends may beable to help with caregiver responsibilities.
- Consider respite care. This is temporary care coordinated through family, friends, or neighbors. It allows someone else to take over duties so the primary caregiver can get a break.
- Get educated. Knowing about the patient's disease may help the caregiver feel more in control and help set realistic expectations.
- Stay healthy. Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest.
- Take things one day at a time. Understand there will be good days and bad days.
- Talk it out. Consider meeting with a counselor or support group.
My Cancer Circle is one example of an online sharing community that offers free tools designed to make life easier for caregivers and volunteers. It offers a caregiver-focused Help Calendar, which enables members to schedule and sign up for tasks that provide respite for the caregiver including meals for the family, rides to medical appointments, and visits. Members can also communicate with one another through message boards, post personal blogs, share photos, and send well wishes to the family. Coordinators can also safely store and retrieve vital information for the family – from medical and health records to financial and legal documents. Caregivers benefit from the gifts of much needed help, emotional support, and peace of mind, while volunteers find meaning in giving back to those in need.
Becoming a caregiver can be a difficult transition. It is very common to feel confused and stressed as roles and life change due to new responsibilities. Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) offers Patient and Family Support Services that can help cancer patients and their loved ones cope with the emotions and life changes brought about by a cancer diagnosis. HCI staff can help patients and their caregivers in the following ways:
- Assist with hospital services, accessing community resources, and addressing other practical needs
- Collaborate and consult with doctors, nurses, and other medical care providers to enhance comprehensive, holistic care
- Help with advanced health care directives such as a living will and medical power of attorney
- Meet with individuals, couples, and families
- Teach stress reduction skills and other mind-body techniques to aid the healing process
Sources: National Cancer Institute and HCI's Patient and Family Support Services