Fortunately, there are resources available to help those in need. In addition to local and online support groups, organizations like Hospice of CNY, which provides end-of-life care to terminal patients, step up to the plate to provide support.
“When a patient is admitted to the program a whole team of professionals get to work,” said Bill Pfohl, communications officer for Hospice. “There are doctors and nurses that focus on comfort care, pain and symptom management. Social workers, grief counselors and chaplains help the patient deal with their illness emotionally. Social workers also help patients and family find community resources that may help during this time.”
Hospice also has a corps of volunteers to provide support to the family of the patient.
“Our trained Hospice volunteers help with many things,” Pfohl said. “Our ‘Family Caregivers’ can make a light meal, help with the shopping or just sit with the patient while giving some respite to the primary caregiver and family. The entire team focuses on the patient and the primary caregiver offering help and support where they can.”
For many families, the post-holiday period also means they find themselves thrust into a caregiving role, as a visit with a parent or grandparent reveals a decline that had previously gone unnoticed.
“After the holidays, we see a lot of people calling because they only see a parent or grandparent once or twice a year and notice new behaviors or changes,” said Paventi of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We offer care consultations, where families and members of our staff meet to discuss what the next steps in caregiving will look like, problem solve and navigate challenges that caregivers face. Our education programs and support groups offer forums to share and learn and all are free of charge.”
Providing this kind of support is critical; people who care for a loved one with a serious illness or disability are susceptible to a host of physical and mental issues. The NFCA reports that 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with approximately a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Eleven percent say that the stress of caregiving has caused their physical health to deteriorate, and studies have shown that it can take up to 10 years off a person’s life.