The Rewards and Challenges of Caregiving


I had the pleasure of presenting on the rewards and challenges of caregiving at St. George parish in Tinley Park yesterday.  I was glad to see such a good turnout, especially in the midst of Chicago’s first winter storm.

Rewards of Caregiving

We often hear about the difficulties of caregiving, but not so much about the rewards.  Of course there are very challenging aspects of caregiving, but I felt it was important to emphasize the rewards, which are so often overlooked.

I will not go into all the details of my presentation here, but I’m happy to give you a quick rundown of the main points. We can categorize the rewards of caregiving as follows:

  • Positive Emotions:  Research has found that caregivers report approximately three times more positive than negative emotions related to caregiving.  96% report feeling “loving”, 90% report feeling appreciated, and 84% report feeling proud.
  • Relationship Rewards:  Caregivers can experience increased closeness with their care recipient, other caregivers, and their own support network.  Caregiving provides an opportunity for meaningful discussions, resolution of old issues, and expression of forgiveness and love.
  • Sense of Purpose and Meaning:  People find it meaningful to care for someone, to reduce someone’s suffering, to fulfill their role as a family member or friend, to rise to a challenge, and to achieve important goals.  Therefore caregiving can be a very life-enriching experience.
  • Spiritual Growth:  Caregiving can help clarify one’s beliefs and deepen one’s sense of their own values, compassion, and patience.  It can cause one to reconnect with their spiritual community or spiritual practice.  Also, seeing the care recipient coping in a spiritual way can be inspiring.
  • Logistical Savvy:  While caring for someone, the caregiver learns how to help with medical care and activities of daily living.  They also learn about dealing with various helping professionals, about services and resources and how to access them, about legal and financial planning, and about managing their own time and delegating.  These skills can come in handy in the future.
  • Self Confidence and Self-Esteem:  All of the above rewards can help the caregiver to improve their self confidence and self-esteem.
  • Posttraumatic Growth:  Even traumatic events can be followed by posttraumatic growth – a positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with a highly challenging situation.

Challenges of Caregiving

Ironically, many of the above rewards would not be possible if caregiving were not challenging in the first place.  No matter how well you cope with a caregiving situation, its very nature is challenging – because it involves the loss of independence, comfort, ability, health, and ultimately, life.  Here are some examples of the challenges of caregiving:

  • Logistical Challenges:  Finances top the list of logistical challenges for many people, especially with the recent changes in the economy.  Additionally, it can be a challenge to manage time, coordinate care, learn about options, and make difficult decisions.
  • Relationship Challenges:  Caregiving can be an isolating experience, especially if you are the primary caregiver and are not getting any help.  Also, relationships may be strained due to disagreements with other caregivers or unresolved family conflicts, and friends may pull away because they feel awkward or don’t have the time to help.  In the case of dementia, the caregiver also gradually loses their companionship with the care recipient him or herself.
  • Emotional Challenges:  More than half of caregivers experience significant worry and anxiety.  Over a quarter report feeling depressed or sad, and almost a quarter feel overwhelmed.  Caregivers may also struggle with denial, over-involvement, anger, and guilt.
  • Physical Challenges:  Caregivers take worse care of themselves by eating poorly, exercising less, skipping their own doctors appointments, and sleeping poorly.  Eventually, the chronic tension of caregiving can impact your health, diminishing your immune system, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, and (for elderly caregivers) even increasing the risk of mortality.

The Good News

The good news is that caregivers can decrease their stress, increase their effectiveness, and reap more rewards if they educate themselves about coping, utilize their support system, and access community and health-care resources.  Positive ways of coping and helpful ideas include:

  • Active Coping and Problem Solving: learning logistical skills
  • Positive Re-Focusing: focusing on meaningfulness or positive aspects of caregiving
  • Communication: clear and open communication with care recipient and other caregivers
  • Self-Care: taking breaks, delegating, attending to own nutrition, exercise, and sleep
  • Informing Yourself: about services, the illness, coping, legal issues
  • Spiritual Community:  emotional support, volunteers, guidance, spiritual perspectives
  • Counseling/Support: individual or family counseling, support groups, classes, community
  • Geriatric Case Management: professionals who help you with logistics and resources
  • Respite: finding ways to take breaks from caregiving and to relax or enjoy yourself
  • Supplementary Services: home alterations, home delivered meals, volunteers, etc.

Want To Learn More?

Here are some links to additional resources about caregiving:

Community Resources for Older Adults

More Resources for Older Adults and Their Caregivers

Family Caregiver Alliance

National Family Caregiver Association

National Association of Geriatric Care Managers

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