In the decade before winning his first Screen Actors Guild Award, actor Rob Lowe was cast in a different role. “When I was in my thirties,” he wrote in USA Today, “my brothers and I cared for our mother throughout her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. It’s not a role I was expecting to land, it didn’t come with much preparation, but it turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done – and, undeniably, one of the most difficult."
“Often,” he adds, “that means you’ll skip your social obligations, wreck your diet, suffer sleep deprivation, and even risk your career, all to help a loved one through the most difficult time of their life.”
According to National Alliance for Caregiving estimates, 43.5 million Americans selflessly serve as unpaid family caregivers for loved ones. Of those, 85% are caring for a relative, 60% are women. On the average, their caregiving occupies 24.4 hours a week of their time as they do “everything from housework to advocating with health care professionals to complex medical/nursing tasks.”
No wonder 70% of US caregivers feel tired most of the time, 57% suffer from sleep trouble, 49% from feelings of depression and 46% from weight fluctuation – to say nothing of the financial stress resulting from sacrificing an aggregate of nearly $3 trillion in lost wages, pension and Social Security benefits and averaging $7000 a year in out-of-pocket caregiving expenses.
Take care of yourselves.
Based on his own caregiving, Lowe has four important words of advice for caregivers:
- “From my own experience, I know that if you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you won’t have the strength, the patience and the emotional reserves to care for anyone else,” he explains.
- Find help – Caregivers are called on to provide holistic senior care, often with no idea how to or even what kind of care is needed. Websites about your loved one’s condition can give you valuable information, as can online support groups and forums here caregivers help each other by sharing advice. In addition, our detailed three-part assessment of seniors’ physical, psychosocial and mental status defines what kind of care is needed – and what isn’t.
- Talk about it – Talk to friends, family and co-workers about your caregiving challenges. At the very least, you’ll blow off some steam. At best, the people you talk to will ask questions and maybe find ways to lend a hand. And if you contact us for a free half-hour senior care consultation, you might learn about some solutions that could cost less than the income you’d sacrifice by doing everything yourself.
- Just be there – Caregiving, Lowe says, can “make each day feel as if you’re scaling a mountain of stress.” But when the caregiving ends, “you’ll want to look back and see that you did the most important thing: simply helping someone you love know that they weren’t alone.”