Caring for the Caregiver

Caring for the Caregiver

Caring For The Caregiver

Caring for someone, particularly someone with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia, can be an overwhelming task.  It is generally recognized that caring for an older person with a disability or chronic condition is burdensome and stressful to many family caregivers and contributes to psychiatric and physical morbidity.14

Stress resulting from family caregiving can result in increased risks of depressive symptoms, infectious diseases such as colds and influenza, and chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  In addition, caregivers are less likely than peers of the same age to engage in health-promoting behaviors that are important for chronic disease prevention and control.14 Some statistics to consider:

  • 40% of women experience emotional stress (rated four to five on a five-point scale) as a result of caregiving; only 26% of men experience emotional stress.1
  • Because caregiving is such an emotionally draining experience, caregivers have a high rate of depression, burnout and fatigue.15
  • Although caring for an older person with disabilities can be physically demanding, one-third of all caregivers describe their own health as fair to poor.1
  • 39% of caregivers say they had no choice in taking on the role.15

To read the Surgeon General’s prescription for caregivers, please click here [link to pdf]

When you are caring for others, taking care of yourself and your needs is like performing regular maintenance on your car.  It’s critical to stay in mental and physical shape.  

Here are some ways you might nurture yourself to cope with stress and improve your well-being: 1, 2

  • Take a break.  You deserve it – and don’t feel guilty.  You can't be a good caregiver to someone else if you don't take care of yourself.   Remember that your care recipient may also benefit from having someone else around.  Plan for regular breaks – an hour daily, an afternoon weekly, or a day monthly – whatever you can manage.  Enlist the help of relatives and community services (such as a volunteer group at your local church) so you can take time off regularly.  Perhaps try for a weekend or longer vacation by using home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living residences, and care homes, which sometimes accept a short-term resident, space permitting.  Relatives can help in many ways – through financial support, social support (calling the care recipient regularly just "to talk"), as well as respite support.  Adult day centers, which usually operate five days a week, provide care in a group setting to older people who need supervision.
  • Take care of your body.  Eat nutritious meals.  Don’t give in to stress-driven urges for sweets or overindulge with alcohol.  Get enough sleep.  If you wake at night, try napping during the day.  Get regular medical checkups.  Exercise, even if it means finding someone else to provide care while you walk or go to the gym. If you experience symptoms of depression—extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death—it could be an illness requiring treatment.  See a doctor right away.
  • Be social.  This may take advance planning, but it’s worth it.  Isolation increases stress, while having frequent good times with others will balance your emotions.
  • Ask friends and relatives for help.  Make a list of tasks you need help with and ask friends and relatives if they could contribute.  Those who live far away can still provide plenty of support.
  • Reach out to community services.  Consider a geriatric care manager to coordinate all aspects of your loved one’s needs.  Home health aides, shopping helpers, homemakers, and someone to handle home repairs are people who can shoulder some of the many distractions of caregiving.  Volunteers and/or staff from faith-based organizations or civic groups might visit, cook, or help you with driving. 
  • Let it out.   If you bottle up emotions, you might harm your immune system and get sick.  Talk with friends and family about the challenges and rewards of caregiving.  Open up to coworkers in similar situations.  Prayer is the most common way caregivers cope.
  • See a professional counselor or join a caregiver support group.  In a support group, you’ll find emotional support and information from other caregivers and can gain a boost from those in similar situations.
  • Redirect your mind.  Do something you enjoy like reading, walking, or listening to music.  Some people meditate or use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualizing a positive place.
  • Organize.  A good plan will give you more time for yourself.  Set priorities and realistic goals. List your caregiving priorities, and get the important ones done first.  Pace yourself.
  • Ditch negative feelings.  Make it a point to focus on the positive.  Hold a family meeting to resolve conflicts with siblings and other relatives.  Feel positive about your accomplishments as a caregiver instead of dwelling on any perceived shortcomings.
  • When angry, frustrated or depressed, physically remove yourself from the stressful situation (even if it is just to another location in the house).  Verbalize feelings to another person; call a telephone hot line; speak with a health professional; maintain a journal; and seek counseling.
  • Use respite care.  These services provide temporary relief to regular caregivers and can last from a few hours for one day to several weeks.  The care can take place in an adult day center, a nursing home, in the home (usually for short stints), or elsewhere.  Some programs are subsidized, and some use volunteers.  Most provide companionship or supervision when care is needed for only a few hours at a time.

 

Sources:

1 Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009, www.thefamilycaregiver.org

2 American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry (2008). Geriatrics and mental health -- the facts. Available at: http://www.aagponline.org/prof/facts_mh.asp

3 “Dementia and Alzheimer’s Care: Tips, Activities and Long-Term Care Options,” www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_disease_dementias_caring_caregivers.htm

4 “Three Stages of Care: From the Caregiver Point of View,” www.bigtreemurphy.com

5 Caregiving in the U.S. – Findings from a National Survey, National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, April 2004.

6 “How to Find the Perfect Senior Living Arrangement,” Dutcher & Zatkowsky Elder Law / Medicaid / Estate Planning, www.dutcher-zatkowsky.com

7 “9 Things to Consider in Your Search for an Assisted Living Facility,” by January Payne, May 27, 2010, US News & World Report, www.usnews.com

8 “Why Should I care About Elder Abuse?” National Center on Elder Abuse, www.ncea.aoa.gov

9 “Protecting Your Loved One From Fraud,” National Caregivers Library, www.caregiverslibrary.org, © Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

10  Basic Financial Caregiving, www.caregiverslibrary.org, Adapted from “Financial Caregiving: A Survival Guide.” FDIC Consumer News, developed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. © Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

11 Legal Issues, www.caregiverslibrary.org, © Copyright FamilyCare America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

12 Public Benefits That Can Help, Caregivingwww.aarp.org.

13 www.va.gov

14 Family Caregiving, MD Consult, 2007 Elsevier, Inc., http://ssl.search.live.com

15 “Mayo Clinic on Healthy Aging:  Answers to help you make the most of the rest of your life,” Edward T. Creagan, M.D., editor in chief, 2001.