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Appreciating caregivers

Caregivers are often overworked and underpaid. They do the menial and backbreaking work of caring for people who lack the ability to care for themselves - things that are vital to promote the quality of living for their charges. Caregivers take on the responsibility of providing for the physical and emotional needs of people who for a variety of reasons need that level of care. Some caregivers are paid for their services, but often they are the friends or family members of the patient and care for them without pay, from a sense of love or duty.

Being a caregiver is not for everyone, although it might be fair to say that anyone can at some point in life find themselves in a position of knowing and caring about someone in need of the services a caregiver provides. It's a role that requires empathy, selflessness and lots of patience.

It's vital for caregivers to take proper care of themselves, in addition to their patients. Caregiver burnout is a real affliction that results from stress and neglecting to take adequate care of oneself first. We've all heard the analogy of airplane safety protocol: when the oxygen masks drop in an airplane cabin, first you must put a mask on yourself so you can breathe. Only then should you place a mask on a dependent person like a child or disabled individual. The logic is clear. If you pass out from a lack of oxygen, then you also endanger anyone who is counting on you to help them put their mask on properly.

Extend this logic to the everyday duties of caregivers. While making sure their patients get plenty of water, are they drinking enough water themselves? Getting enough sleep? What about exercise? Caregiver burnout can lead to the mistreatment of patients. Even if the resultant behavior is not outright abusive, it can be quick-tempered, impatient, unkind and can lead to hurt feelings and anger. Even the best, most dedicated caregivers can experience burnout. Lack of appreciation for the caregiver over extended periods of time can also contribute to the problem.

When a loved one is suffering the indignities of being dependent on someone else for basic care and companionship, it's stressful and hard for most people to deal with. Engaging the services of a caregiver is a necessity in such a situation. If or when this happens to you, remember to appreciate your loved one's caregiver. Ask and make sure that he or she is taking proper care of him or herself, that emotionally and physically your caregiver is okay. Offer assistance when appropriate and be free with your praise. A thank you card or small gift can go a long way to convey your gratitude and care. And in the end, wouldn't you want the person caring for your loved one to feel appreciated and valued?