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Caring For Caregivers During the Holidays

By Dugan Maddux, MD, FACP
Caregiving for someone you love is a big job. As the holiday season approaches, the challenges of caregiving are even more challenged by competing priorities. Caregivers play a critical role throughout the year, so it’s important that they protect their well-being, especially during the hectic holiday season. 
Clinic visits with patients and their caregivers were a regular part of my former adult nephrology practice in southern Virginia. My CKD, kidney transplant, home therapy and in-center hemodialysis patients frequently relied on spouses, children, extended family and friends to support them in living with kidney disease. Support came in all forms, from providing a ride to the clinic, directly helping with PD exchanges, preparing kidney-friendly meals or simply being a loving listener.
On average, caregivers spend 25 hours per week providing caregiving services. Most often this is in addition to working a full-time job, according to a report of caregiver life in the United States compiled by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) [1]. It’s no surprise that being a caregiver can be exhausting!  Studies of parents caring for children with CKD reveal some common results of caregiver stress, like feelings of anxiety, depression and fatigue, stress and social isolation [2]. 
There are some simple ways that caregivers can care for themselves this holiday season.  Here are some tips for you to consider:  

Take time to care for yourself.

Self care can come in many forms. It can be a bubble bath, an hour with a good book or a silly magazine, an exercise session, a nice well-rounded meal or simply a break. When we’re caring for others, it can be easy to lose sight of our own needs, even the most basic ones. This holiday season, I encourage you to regain that focus. It won’t be realistic to commit to hours upon hours of self care, especially during the holidays; however, try to take time for yourself. Setting aside an hour (or even 30 minutes) here and there can be a good start. Keep trying until you find a schedule that fits your needs and comfort level. If you find yourself still struggling with this idea, try changing your perspective to consider your loved one. You can only best take care of his or her needs when you have already taken care of yourself. 

Try to add structure to your own schedule and your loved one’s schedule where you can.

During the holidays, our schedules can get completely upended. Perhaps you are working more or different hours. You and your loved one may be surrounded (and tempted) by holiday foods and treats. Maybe you are hosting guests or throwing parties. All of this, combined with the everyday stressors of caring for someone with chronic kidney disease, can quickly add up. Consider trying to carefully schedule and plan what you can, so that when things come up that are outside of your control, you feel like you can manage them. 

Reach out for extra help and support.

The holidays are a time to connect with extended family and friends. Try reaching out to someone new and asking for support in caretaking, whether it’s a friend or family member of yours or of your loved one. You will need the added support during the hectic holiday season, whether the person is helping you with last minute gift purchases, shuttling your loved one to an appointment or just offering a listening ear. Realize that by allowing someone else to support both you and your loved one, you are giving that person the gift of feeling helpful and capable. 
Dr. Dugan Maddux is currently Vice President for Kidney Disease Initiatives at Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA).
She graduated from Vanderbilt University and attended medical school at the University of North Carolina. She stayed in Chapel Hill for Internal Medicine residency and Nephrology fellowship and subsequently joined the Danville Urologic Clinic in Danville, Virginia for 18 years of private practice in nephrology. While in nephrology practice she worked with her husband, Frank Maddux, to develop a nephrology-focused Electronic Health Record.
During her tenure at FMCNA, Dr. Maddux has participated in clinical innovation projects related to CKD population management in pre-dialysis late stage CKD and during the transition to dialysis start. Other areas of focus and expertise include support for home therapies and kidney disease supportive and palliative care.
1. 2015 Report
Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, AARP Public Policy Institute
National Alliance for Caregiving. p. 87.
2. Gayomali, C., S. Sutherland, and F.O. Finkelstein, The challenge for the caregiver of the patient with chronic kidney disease. Nephrol Dial Transplant, 2008. 23(12): p. 3749-51.

Last Reviewed: 11/29/2018
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