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When a family member suffers from a chronic, debilitating illness, the family also suffers.  Often times, the patient is unable to care for himself. A family member or two may offer to assume day to day assistance with ADLs., which in medical speak means activities of daily living.

The presence of a loved one, who is around most of the day, can be both comforting and disturbing. The sufferer enjoys being around family but at the same time might feel guilty for drawing away the family member from her job, husband and the like.  The caretaker might resent other, lesser involved family members. Old family issues might resurface. It is difficult to find that golden mean, where care activities mesh perfectly with personal ones.

If a caretaker , perhaps out of love for his sick family member, immerses himself intensely into care activities, he can develop what is known as caretaker fatigue. This can cause anger, depression, loss of concentration and even erratic behavior from lack of sleep and interactions with healthy people. Outside relationships can be affected as can job performance.

Spouses, significant others or children are often the first to notice. If suggestions are made to let up a little, by hiring some outside help, this can bring relief to the caretaker. Yet, sometimes finances, stubbornness or lack of insight prevent the caretaker from giving herself a break.

Like many of you, I too have seen this in my family. My father came down with multiple myeloma, which is a blood cancer that slowly weakens the body until on the average of seven years death ensues. My mother toward the end cared for him 24-7. She would not take any offers of help from her children or her friends, until she herself became so emotionally and physically exhausted that she finally gave in.

There are no easy answers to caretaker fatigue. The dignity of the sufferer and the caretaker both must be preserved, while not sacrificing the care which is desperately needed. Consider contacting your physician who can refer you and you loved ones to a medical social worker. This professional can research care options such as home health care, assisted living or skilled nursing facilities. In addition, you might look at counseling, which would allow all to vent and get the issues out in the open.

 

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