Did You Know... The Facts About Caregivers?

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: October 29, 2015

It is estimated that over 65.7 million Americans are caregivers for a family member or loved one. Cancer is just one illness that may require the assistance of a caregiver. Being a caregiver can impact your physical, emotional, and financial health and well-being. Some facts about cancer caregivers:

  • Approximately 2/3 of caregivers are women. These may be spouses, partners, siblings, children or neighbors. One-third of caregivers are caring for two or more people.
  • Although men were not traditionally the family caregivers, about 1/3 of people with cancer are cared for by a man. This group may have to take on tasks that they never performed before, such as laundry, shopping, and cooking.
  • Coordinating the patient's care by various specialists can be one of the challenging roles of caregiving.
  • 85% of caregivers found the satisfaction of caring for their loved one to outweigh the disadvantages, but 10% found caregiving to be a burden.
  • Caregivers report higher levels of insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, poor appetite and depression than their non-caregiving counterparts.
  • It is estimated that the value of family caregiving in the US exceeds 375 billion dollars annually for all health conditions.

As a caregiver, you must make time to care for yourself in order to provide good care for your loved one. It is important to recognize your own needs as a caregiver and to ask for help when needed. Accept others' offers to help and allow some respite time for yourself. Network with other caregivers through support groups or online discussion groups to get ideas and share feelings. Find a non-judgmental person with whom to share your feelings. Keeping feelings of anxiety and frustration to yourself can just lead to feelings of resentment. Don't allow your own health to fall to the wayside, be sure to make time for your own doctor's visits, and try to maintain a good diet.

The Caregiver Action Network created these "10 Tips for Family Caregivers":

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don't delay in getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it's up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Visit OncoLink's section on caregiving for education, tips and resources to make this journey a good one.

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