(BlackDoctor.org) — Caregiving is nothing new to the African American community. In fact, Black Americans are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to serve in caregiving roles, according to David Schulbaum, the director of marketing and business development for the Kensington, Md.-based National Family Caregivers Association. Though a good caregiver can go a long way toward making life easier for those with HIV and AIDS, there are certain pitfalls that caregivers can succumb to if they don’t take steps to protect their own health and well-being.
“There’s a lot of research out there that points to an increased state of ill health among family caregivers,” says Schulbaum. Indeed, a 2010 study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving, the University of Pennsylvania Institute on Aging and the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that caregivers are more likely to suffer health challenges such as depression, hypertension and heart disease.
A caregiver’s work life and finances may also suffer as a result of taking days off to care for family members. “Family caregivers are missing more work, they’re coming in late, they’re leaving during the day and they’re becoming less wealthy,” says Schulbaum.
One thing caregivers can do to avoid problems at work is to talk to their employers about their caregiving responsibilities, says Nicole Cutts, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and success coach based in Washington, D.C. “Balancing work and caregiving can be especially challenging, so you need to educate yourself and perhaps your employer about this issue,” she says.
For those who are forced to miss work because of caregiving responsibilities, there are some legal protections in place. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for an immediate family member who is seriously ill.
Organization Is Key
Caregivers for someone with HIV/AIDS can be faced with a broad range of responsibilities, from picking up a loved one’s prescriptions to accompanying that person to the doctor. If someone is in the advanced stages of AIDS, his or her needs may be even greater, with a caregiver having to help out with day-to-day tasks such as cooking and bathing. Janet Taylor, M.D., a psychiatrist based in New York who has written about the challenges faced by caregivers of those with HIV/AIDS, suggests that tasks be written down and prioritized so that the most important ones are more likely to get done.
Amid all the obligations that must be met, it’s important to schedule time for yourself and your own emotional needs, or else you face the risk of becoming overwhelmed, Dr. Cutts points out. “Caregivers might feel typical symptoms of depression or fatigue,” she says. “You could be irritable, edgy, sad, lonely, have trouble sleeping, notice a change in appetite, experience bodily aches and pains, or suffer frequent illnesses.”