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For many caregivers, so much of everyday life is directed at meeting someone else’s needs. Experiencing the emotional rewards is often beside the point—or even difficult to imagine. But a recent study from the University of Buffalo indicates that caregiving may provide psychological benefits.
Judy Schueneman found this to be true when her mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “Mom had trouble eating because of the radiation, but I’d make soup for her. In retrospect, I was making it for me—she rarely ate, but cooking for her was something that meant a lot to me.”
The benefits are associated with active care, which may be as much about the caregiver’s intention as activity level. If passive care is being with someone in case of a problem, “active care is being present,” says Vince Corso, Spiritual and Bereavement Care Manager with VNSNY’s end-of-life care team. “And active care, whether feeding, helping with physical care, reading, or even listening to your loved one, can be very gratifying.”
Active care can also provide long-term benefits to caregivers by helping to create memories. “When you’re caught up in the trauma of the illness, you lose sight of the whole picture of your loved one’s life,” says Corso. “Memories remind you of the joy and can help bring things back into balance—which is important in the present and will help with the healing process.”
Abby Spilka, a volunteer with end-of-life care from VNSNY, finds the benefits as profound as they are intangible. “Being with a patient as a volunteer is different from caring for my mother. As a volunteer, I know I can leave—but my spirit is still lifted by the encounter with my patient. Sitting and simply listening helps to take me out of myself and the craziness of my life. Caregiving can be a heavy burden, and finding ways to lighten the load, whether spiritually or physically, brings relief.”
Cook a special meal
Do your family member’s hair and/or makeup
Page through a family photo album together and share memories
If you are musically inclined, stage a small recital of your favorite tunes
Give your loved one a neck or hand massage
If feasible, plan a special outing to a favorite restaurant, shopping center or family member’s home
To find out how VNSNY can help you care for your family member, please call 1-800-675-0391.