Long-term Illness Caregivers: “The patient at the centre… what about my life?”.

By Elisabeth Georgiou | Psychologist – Psychotherapist | www.be-yourself.gr

When a person is ill, he has lost his strength and…. without power he is called upon to face what is happening inside and outside of him. It may be a young person who is ill, an elderly person whose functions are weakening, or a person with a permanent or temporary disability. In any case, his physical, emotional and mental functions at different levels are sickening and there is an internal imbalance. When there is a physical illness, the person experiences negative emotions and negative thoughts that disrupt his inner world. At the same time, in the external environment, depending on the type of illness, there is usually an inability to meet professional, family and personal obligations. Then support is needed both on a practical and emotional level. That is when the meeting point with the caregiver comes on stage.

The caregiver is called upon to provide support and solutions to practical issues such as finances, procedures with doctors, the health system and often physical assistance to the patient. In addition, the caregiver comes to support the patient in managing the negative thoughts and feelings he is experiencing. Anger, fear, sadness, frustration are looking for antidotes in a conversation, in a look, in a touch. Thoughts of death, helplessness, abandonment seek the help of encouragement and empowerment. There the caregiver is called to be present.                             

The caregiver can be a relative, a friend, a nurse or a volunteer. The caregivers take care of the patient:

  •  Either because of their relationship with them because they feel it is a moral and / or social need and obligation
  •   Or because they have chosen it through their professional occupation
  •   Or because they chose to act this way voluntarily in the context of their own perception of the social offer.

Although the motives may differ, the aim is the same… the care for the patient.

I found in a dictionary that care is the mental, psychological, spiritual and physical supply of energy in order to achieve the satisfaction of the patient’s needs and the promotion of their well-being. In the eyes of a patient, however, I found that care is the will of the person next to them to offer them time, knowledge but also the look of love, the hand of support, the ear that hears and the mouth that says words of support.

But what does a caregiver need to cope with this highly demanding role? Through my experience with long-term patients, mainly cancer patients, I have found that caregivers are the ones who often know how to care for the patient but forget to take care of themselves! They suppress their own needs because, if they express them, they will come into conflict with their moral, social, professional obligations. The biggest trap is when the disease is diagnosed or the accident happens and everyone is shocked by the first contact with the long-term illness or disability. Then the caregivers give all their energy to take care of the patient and this exhausts them with the consequence that in the long run they leave the patient. I have examples of people who have just been diagnosed with cancer, their relatives and friends followed surgery and the first chemotherapy, but in the 9th chemotherapy they went alone, when their physical and mental endurance were clearly reduced compared to the beginning.

Caregivers suffer from the phenomenon of “burn out” and mental exhaustion, and this happens when they lack their mental and / or physical reserves. They lose their balance in their own lives and come into conflict with their needs and other obligations. We encounter cases of people who, in their attempt to care for a patient, had problems with their waist due to the wrong moves they made in order to lift them. People who put the blame for their professional or family status (divorce or non-marriage) on an elderly parent in need of care or a disabled sibling. They could not manage the situation, either because they focused solely on their energy and interest in the patient or because they failed to accept the situation and their own feelings.

I am often visited by people who want me to monitor the long-term patients they care for and it is often clear that psychological support is needed primarily by caregivers to be able to endure and continue to support patients. Also, for people working in health and care professions and bring a personal issue to the sessions as the central theme, most of the times it becomes apparent how much their mental exhaustion from the subject of their work affects their relationships and life as a whole. In many cases, providing psychological support, either individually or in a group setting, helps to relieve mental fatigue, reassess the caregiver’s personal situation and priorities, and generally their own balance.

There are also special programs to support caregivers in hospitals for nursing staff or in special agencies and associations for the training and support of long-term illness caregivers.

On Saturday, February 8, the Association of Cancer Patients and Friends of the Prefecture of Evros “Sinehizo – ΣυνεχίΖΩ” in the context of the action “I continue taking care of myself” organizes an event on “Taking care of caregivers.” There I will have the pleasure to talk about caregivers and how we can more effectively “take care” of them.

The value of offering to fellow human beings is timeless and … rewarding! The benefits for caregivers are hidden in words that contain universal meanings such as the feeling of solidarity and love for fellow human beings, the importance of well-being, friendship as a value in our lives, respect and recognition of what the patient has offered in life as a parent, partner, relative, friend. Because “I care” means “I look after”, “I hold dear”, “I respect”, “I love” both the others and myself!

See more about the event: http://bit.ly/Facebook_SynexiZO_HSCare