The Challenges of Family Caregiving

By David Greenberg

Without question, one of the most challenging tasks anyone can take on is to be a family caregiver.

Almost always an unpaid role, it costs the caregiver a tremendous amount in time and energy and often results in a loss of income as well. A recent study showed that family caregivers provide $70 billion in unpaid work in the United States alone. And additional studies show that caregiving is often associated with distress, anxiety, stress and depression.

We are blessed in the Gainesville area with a number of agencies and support groups to help family caregivers. It is a given that without them, the system in place for caring for family members would collapse.

While serving as a family caregiver is always a challenge, because of the pandemic the last two years has turned that challenge into an overwhelming task.

That’s because most family caregivers tend to isolate to perform their role, and that isolation was compounded during the pandemic.

“Isolation was certainly different in the last two years than it ever was before,” said Tamara Evonne, a case manager at the HCA Florida Senior Healthcare Center at Springhill. “For one thing, people have not had the opportunity to come together for support groups. Additionally, in order to safeguard their loved ones, they weren’t doing the same social connecting they had been previously. They were instead neglecting their own social needs in favor of being protective.”

That included limiting the outsiders who could come into the home, further exacerbating the isolating situation for the caregiver.

The result of that has been neglect, but not just neglect for the loved one.

“Multiple people suffer,” Evonne said, “starting with the caregiver themselves. Being so focused on providing the best care they can, they suffer from self-neglect. While that happens all the time, it was much worse during COVID.”

Christina Ramos, the executive director of Touching Hearts at Home, says she has seen the same thing during the last few years.

“Being a family caregiver can be rewarding, but it can also be intense, emotionally, physically draining and all-consuming at any time,” she said. “While it is very rewarding, it takes a toll. Respite care is crucial to prevent burnout and to provide for the well-being of the caregiver.”

Like Evonne, she recognizes why it has been such a great challenge for family caregivers to seek respite during the pandemic. But without respite, she says, the caregiver can no longer be effective.

“Respite care increases social engagement and helps maintain a sense of identity for the caregiver. It helps them feel more relaxed, refreshed and positive and provides better support for their loved ones. That’s why it is imperative for the family caregiver to take a break.”

That’s why it’s so crucial to bring in the kind of help you can receive from an agency like Touching Hearts at Home.

“The benefit of bringing in a professional caregiver far outweighs the cost,” she said. “It’s a small price to pay, and it helps make you a better family caregiver.”

So, while there are always challenges facing the family caregiver, there is some good news.

In-person caregiver support groups, which used to be plentiful in this community, moved to online during the pandemic. This publication used to publish a page-long list of support groups. As these groups go back to in person, we are going to try to revive that list in the next issue. In this issue, you will see the beginning of the return of that list inside.

But if you are a family caregiver, you must take the first step. You must recognize that you have support in this community, and you need to take advantage of it. Without that help, you cannot be as effective for your loved one as you desire to be.

Also in this issue:

Sam Boone on National Elder Law Month

National recognition for the Windsor

Elder Options and the TCARE program