Finding joy from caring for others.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, there are 9.5 million more Americans caring for a family member than there were just five years ago. More than 1 in 5 Americans now serve as caregivers for a family member. The study also finds that the health of family caregivers has declined since 2015. There is no sugarcoating it: Caregiving is a difficult task.
But caring for a loved one also offers many rewards. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center revealed that far more American caregivers found the experience rewarding (88%) than stressful (32%). In the 2017 National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan, 85% of respondents rated caregiving as very or somewhat rewarding.
Here are nine ways to find comfort and joy from caring for others.
You appreciate life more.
A 2009 study on caregivers of stroke survivors revealed 11 positive results of caregiving, and at the top was that it “enabled you to appreciate life more,” with 91% of respondents endorsing that response. Near the top of the list, with support from 85% of respondents, was the notion that caregiving “enabled you to develop a more positive attitude toward life.”
Caregiving “gives you time to refocus on the priorities in life,” says Christine Consiglio, a medical social worker in the care management department at White Plains Hospital in New York. “We all get swept up in the day to day and kind of forget what’s really important. There is a greater sense of purpose or meaning in our lives (from caregiving) that we don’t obtain through daily activities.”
You feel needed.
Another benefit that ranked high on the 2009 study was the notion that caregiving “made you feel needed.” Nadia Benson, deputy and director of nursing services at the Nathaniel Witherell, a skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation facility in Greenwich, Connecticut, says that caregivers have a positive effect on residents every day. “From personal experience here at Witherell, to see the joy my staff brings to residents’ lives, how we have changed lives, it is very rewarding. It makes us feel very warm inside. That connection is very special.”
You can grow a relationship.
Many caregivers report that the job allows them to strengthen their relationship with others. “When we are in that role, we can refocus on family relationships and personal connections,” Consiglio says.
Caregiving, especially if it comes at the end of someone’s life, offers the opportunity to reconnect or build on longstanding relationships, Consiglio explains. “It can be a special experience. It’s a time to let that person reflect on their life, tell their story, share their legacy, so it’s special for the person being cared for but also for caregivers to receive that information and pass it on to future generations.”
You facilitate aging in place.
The majority of Americans prefer to age in their homes, and for many, this wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of family caregivers. So another benefit of caregiving is that it allows people to age in place.
“To know you are a positive person in their life, that they are not in a facility and they know you are providing that care would give me a sense of pride to know I was able to give them that gift of time and love,” says Benson, who has been a geriatric caregiver for more than 20 years.
You get some health benefits
Research has found, while caregiving is without question stressful in the short term, health benefits may accrue over the long term, among them lower mortality rates, stronger physical performance and better memory. The author of a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society called this the “healthy caregiver hypothesis,” and suggests there may be something of a “stress buffer” to help minimize the damage that stress can do to one’s health.
You establish family traditions.
Caregiving can become a tradition, as younger children see their parents caring for their grandparents or others. This may make those children more likely to follow their parents’ model when that time comes for them.
You feel a sense of accomplishment.
“We all take pride in overcoming obstacles. It can be stressful when you climb that mountain, but when you can say I did it you can be proud of yourself,” Consiglio says.
Benson echoes that, noting that, as a caregiver, “you have to become a patient person, a listener to the needs of your loved one. There are so many choices to make, and if can see it through, it can be very rewarding.”
You learn or improve skills.
Caregivers need to use both physical and mental powers to clean, dress, physically support, organize, schedule, monitor and manage the life of their charge. In addition, “Caregiving teaches patience, understanding and empathy in ways that no other role in life can,” Consiglio says. “You can compare it maybe to parenting. This is similar to that.”
You also may learn a lot about how you want to be cared for when your time comes. A University of Michigan poll found that 91% of dementia caregivers believe that experience made them think more about their own future needs.
It makes you feel good.
Leave it to Oprah Winfrey to sum up one of the greatest benefits of caregiving: “Helping others is the way we help ourselves.” Caregivers devote themselves to assisting others, and that can have a positive impact on them personally. “It feels good to care for others,” Consiglio says. “It’s a feeling of love and value that you can’t put a price tag on.”
Ways that caregiving can benefit you:
— You appreciate life more.
— You feel needed.
— You can grow a relationship.
— You facilitate aging in place.
— You get some health benefits.
— You establish family traditions.
— You feel a sense of accomplishment.
— You learn or improve skills.
— It makes you feel good.
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