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Caregivers of paraplegics struggle with burnout

The role of caregiver for a spinal cord injury patient is often a thankless one. Tasks must be performed day in and day out and can't be skipped when caregivers are tired or under the weather themselves. Burnout is common, and one way to deter it is by avoiding isolation and remaining plugged in to the world outside.

The late Dana Reeve, wife to actor Christopher Reeve, was the primary caretaker of her husband after his 1995 spinal cord injury. Her experiences led her to create the Paralysis Resource Center to provide caregivers with knowledge and options. Below are some of her observations and advice.

Caregivers have to deal each day with the patient's hygiene, medical issues while also advocating for them and meeting their financial needs. It can be overwhelming.

Family members of spinal cord injury patients provide the majority of care for their disabled loved ones. Over 50 million relatives provide care for relatives, which if they were receiving a salary, would total $375 billion. That figure is nearly twice the sum paid out to professional caregivers whose services supplement the unpaid caregivers' efforts.

The role of a caregiver is emotionally and physically draining. Caregivers are frequently diagnosed with stress, anxiety and depression. Statistics indicate that as many as 70 percent of caregivers struggle with depression, over half have sleep difficulties, and more than 40 percent are diagnosed with back problems.

Even worse, almost 75 percent of familial caregivers don't see their physicians as frequently as they should. As many as 55 percent admit to skipping appointments. Even more — 63 percent — aren't eating properly.

Caregiving is also expensive; family members of spinal cord injury patients spend over twice the amount of money on non-covered medical expenses than those who are not involved with caring for a disabled family member.

These duties can require caregivers to put careers on the back burner or abandon them entirely. But losing a much-needed income can put families into precarious financial straits, too. It's a delicate balancing act that can become quite frustrating.

Making sure that a settlement or judgment includes adequate funds for professional caregivers should be the goal of all personal injury attorneys.

Source: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, "Your role as a caregiver," Dana Reeve, accessed June 10, 2016

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