Experiencing the Psychological Benefits of Caregiving

For many caregivers, so much of every-day life is directed at meeting someone else’s needs. Experiencing 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.

Active Care

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 there’s a problem, active care is being present,” says Vince Corso, M.Div., LCSW-R. “And active care, whether feeding, helping with physical care, reading, or even listening to your loved one, can be very gratifying.”

Judy S. found this to be true after 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 my benefit—she rarely ate, but cooking for her was something that meant a lot to me.”

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.”

Staying Present

Caregiving can be a heavy burden, and finding ways to lighten the load, whether spiritually or physically, can bring relief. Here are some ways to be present with your loved one:

  • Do your family member’s hair and/or makeup
  • Page through a family photo album together and share memories
  • If you are musically inclined, listen to or sing along with favorite tunes
  • Give your loved one a neck or hand massage
  • If feasible, plan a special outing to a favorite restaurant, shopping center, or another family member’s home to visit.

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