Many find caregiving to be rewarding and empowering

A study recently published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that one in six caregivers is in distress. Social workers and other professionals at Baycrest are working together with family caregivers to help them move from distress to success in this role.

“What we find is that many caregivers find strength they never knew they had and rise to the occasion,” says Baycrest social worker Renee Climans, who, along with colleague Arlene Consky, facilitates caregiver support groups.

Caring for an aging loved one can be difficult, but many people find it rewarding and empowering.

“While we acknowledge and validate the losses and the negative emotions, as facilitators we also seek to help these family members reflect on the benefits and the positive aspects of their caregiving experience,” explains Consky.

“We have found that after participating in the support groups, an overwhelming per cent of participants indicated a positive change in their perceptions of their role as a caregiver,” says Climans. “Positive changes include a sense of feeling useful, feeling needed, feeling good about oneself and finding new skills they never knew they had. For example, many women have reported satisfaction at being able to take responsibility for finances for the first time and many men have shared their successes in the kitchen.”

“Several caregivers have expressed how the awareness of their loved one’s wellness has helped them to focus on their own self care needs,” adds Consky. “One woman reported how learning to care for her husband taught her to prioritize her needs and adapt her life-style, resulting in a healthy weight loss.”

A number of participants have reported that caring for their loved one has given them a more spiritual outlook on life as well as a sense of having fulfilled their commitment to their loved one – an obligation of love and understanding.

“Bonding” hormone may lessen effects of stress

Recent studies have shown that there may be physiological benefits to caregiving. Caregivers release oxytocin, a “bonding” hormone, providing a chemical reward which counteracts the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol.

“This challenges the previous belief that the stress of caregiving is dangerous to one’s health,” says Climans. “Most caregivers will do well if we provide the tools to moderate the health consequences. We can minimize the challenges and maximize the benefits by helping people to deal with stress, build on existing strengths and enhance problem solving skills. We can empower caregivers to share experiences and personal expertise, improve social interaction and social support, and engage in self-care activities and a balanced lifestyle.”

“It can be a difficult journey,” notes Linda Jackson, director of Community and Ambulatory Programs at Baycrest, “but many caregivers talk about the tremendous feeling of gratification they get from being there for a person that they love.”

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