Caregiver, especially in our country, plays the biggest role in the prognosis and overall betterment of the patient. Caregivers are the immediate family members, parents, spouse,children and friends. They provide care to individuals with a variety of conditions including advanced age, dementia, and specifically cancer. The experience to deal with a myriad of issues that accompany the patient's care in itself can be a major stressor to the caregiver's own psychological health. Having to take the individual for consultations, looking after their diet, following the doctor's advice and sticking to the dosing of medicines. looking after other family members and balancing enough time to manage their professional commitments and also household chores. Added to all these is the financial burden which can cause burnout to the caregiver, especially in chronic illnesses. This is perceived as chronic stressor and can result in the caregiver experiencing behavioral, psychological, physiological and physical effects on their daily lives and health.
The negative health effects could be result of immune and autonomic dysregulation. The stress in the caregiver can escalate to the point of resulting in depression, alcohol or drug abuse and anxiety. The caregiver stress and the burden that comes with looking after a cancer patient especially is all the more complex and worsening due to the uncertainty of the prognosis of the illness and in case of terminal stage cancers, the debilitating nature.
Doctors are presented daily with several such caregivers and have an opportunity to identify and intervene if there is any stress. Recognizing the psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects of caring for a loved one with cancer is an opportunity for primary prevention.
It is advisable for counselors or Psychiatrists to be made part of the sessions where needed to help the caregiver develop strategies to cope with stress. The caregiver can be encouraged to join support groups which have other caregivers to share experiences. The need to look after their own physical and mental health must be explained and relaxation training and exercises must be advised.
On this cancer day, let us also think of all the caregivers and provide them the necessary help and support. #WecanIcan.