Do you know someone who is caring for a person in need? They could be caring for a child, a person with a disability such as autism, an elderly parent, a spouse, friend, relative, or neighbor.
A caregiver may be paid, but often are not. When I had my hips replaced, fortunately for me, my cousin came from Wichita to pick me up from the hospital, and she took care of me in my home until I was able to stay alone.
Caregivers may help with bathing, eating, or taking medicine. My cousin did my laundry, prepared my meals, and took care of my home and cats. Sometimes a family caregiver may need to arrange activities, such as going to the doctor, or in more serious conditions—dementia, for instance—make health and financial decisions.
Dealing with Caregiver Stress
Caregivers often experience higher levels of stress than those who are not caregivers due to the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. Since many caregivers are helping almost all day and sometimes all night, they have little time for their own lives.
Women have a tendency to experience more caregiver stress and resulting health problems than men. Health problems and depressions are more likely to occur if the loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
For women, caring for a spouse is more likely to cause high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Lack of sleep and regular physical activity, together with fewer regular screenings, contribute to health problems in women caregivers.
When they are stressed, caregivers’ feelings may cycle between frustration, anger, and helplessness. This can increase the chance of mistakes in caregiving or resorting to unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking.
According to MedlinePlus.gov, other signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling worried or sad often
- Having headaches or body aches often
Long-term caregiving can lead to serious health problems, such as depression and anxiety, a weakened immune system, obesity, increased risk for chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis), and attention and memory problems.
How can you prevent or manage caregiver stress?
- Take a class on caregiving. Your doctor or your local Area Agency on Aging can direct you to a class.
- Utilize adult daycare services or respite services for caregivers.
- Ask for help and receive it. Remember, you probably like to help others, so let others help you. When I had my first hip replaced, a friend told me to write down the name of anyone who offered to help after the surgery. I had a list of people to help me around the house until I was able to take care of myself. The list was long enough that the work was spread out and the burden was not too great for any one person.
- Find a support group for caregivers. Share your story, get caregiving tips, and get support. Some groups are even online. Check out the Kansas City Partnership for Caregivers. You won’t feel so alone.
- Create order. Set a routine and use to-do lists. Set healthy boundaries. Check out my blog on the topic.
- Carve out time for yourself. Contact friends and family and do some things you enjoy with friends and family.
- Be healthy. Select healthy foods, sleep enough, and be physically active each day.
- Get regular checkups. When you see your doctor, be sure to mention that you’re a caregiver. Be open about your emotional and physical health.
- Take Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) from work.
Caregiving can be overwhelming and very challenging. It can also be rewarding, since spending time with the person being cared for can be deeply meaningful.
When my elder sister was in hospice, we spent Sundays together as long as she was able. Each week, I would ask her to think about where we would go the next week. As a result, I learned that she loved to enjoy time pondering by a lake. When I told a coworker, she invited us to her beautiful lake-side home, where we had a meal, and my sister relished views of the lake. That was our last outing.
The times that my sister and I spent together as she was in hospice are among my most precious memories. When my cousin spent a few days with me after my hip surgeries, we got to know each other better.
Remember, for a caregiver to provide great care, caring for the caregiver is essential. That requires mindful self-care, asking for and accepting assistance, being organized, setting healthy boundaries, and taking time for you. If you are the caregiver, keep caregiving rewarding by caring for yourself. If you know someone who is a caregiver, encourage them to also take care of themselves.
Resources for Caregiver Stress
Check out my blog for more tips caregiver stress.