For some, becoming a caregiver is expected. You may have a loved one who has been battling a chronic disease for years and gradually step into the caregiver role. For others, it can be sudden, such as after an unexpected hospitalization of a friend or family member. There is not one pathway that that leads individuals toward becoming a caregiver. Each story is unique, and each experience brings its own challenges and dynamics.
One major challenge for both a caregiver and the person they care for is adequate health insurance coverage. A health plan directly affects the resources that are available to a patient and their caregiver; which can be a huge support or a major burden that adds to the caregiver’s stress. Dealing with an illness, whether acute or chronic, is very expensive. Without adequate insurance coverage, it is very costly to pay for home nursing, medications, transportation and other needs. Depending on where one resides, there may be additional support services that are state based programs. Many of these programs are based on age, illness and income. This can leave families in a gray area where they need support but don’t qualify for specific programs or their insurance does not cover services they need.
The responsibilities associated with being a caregiver provide a different challenge. It can be very difficult to see the changes that come with specific illnesses and the impact it has not only on that individual, but those who care for them. Some individuals may have a certain level of independence, while others may require around the clock care and are unable to perform their daily activities. Someone may no longer be able to cook or clean, while others may not be able to physically move. Understandably, this takes a toll on the caregiver. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to assume some of the emotional burden of the person they are caring for and if this issues goes unaddressed, it can only become a larger problem over time.
Being a caregiver is a large responsibility that is life changing and is best tackled with a support system. However, factors such as one’s own health needs, employment, and other time constraints may prevent them from accessing resources such as support groups. Additionally, caregivers may be struggling with their role and feel doubt regarding reaching out to their friends or family. Some caregivers may feel isolated, disconnected and lost. Online communities and support groups provide a great avenue for caregivers to network, share their experiences and resources or participate in advocacy efforts to spark change.
How does a caregiver begin to address some of these challenges? I recommend starting by calling the insurance company and inquiring about services and resources that are provided by the health plan. Depending on your location, some insurance companies might offer transportation to medical appointments, case management services or coverage of respite care. Respite care allows the individual to receive care at a specific agency or within the home, providing caregivers with a short-term break to take care of their own needs, or have some time to themselves to engage in self-care. Depending on the individual’s diagnosis, there may be additional benefits and resources available through specific organizations or community agencies. See if there are social work or case management services available at the hospital your loved one goes to, who can provide additional information and possible resources.
While your caregiving journey is unique, there are shared experiences, which provide comfort and reassurance during difficult times. I encourage all caregivers to find and utilize a support system – we all need a shoulder to lean on.
Caitlin McDonough is a CDC Ambassador and clinical social worker specializing in mental health, infertility, chronic illness in young adults and women’s health, traveling the country as a military spouse.
Helpful resources for caregivers: