More than 50 million people provide home care for a senior, chronically ill, or disabled family member or friend during any given year. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, 25 % of all U.S. households are already involved in care giving. Caregiving is no longer predominantly a women’s issue. Men now make up 44% of the caregiving population.
Since people are living longer, caregivers now find themselves in the position of doing more, in more demanding situations, for longer periods, with less help. if they feel they had no choice in taking on the responsibilities, the chances are that they experience greater strain, distress, and resentment.
Take a look at some of these statistics:
• Family caregivers who provide care 36 or more hours weekly are more likely than non-caregivers to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. For spouses the rate is six times higher; for those caring for a parent the rate is twice as high.
• Family caregivers providing high levels of care have a 51% incidence of sleeplessness and a 41% incidence of back pain.
• The stress of family caregiving has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.
• Elderly spousal caregivers with a history of chronic illness themselves have a 63% higher mortality rate than their non-caregiving peers.
Caring For Caregivers
What can family caregivers do to avoid some of these negative effects of caregiving?
1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. This is the most important thing you can do. It is not selfish – it is essential. Research consistently shows that the combination of loss, prolonged stress, the physical demands of caregiving, and competing demands on obligations and time place the caregiver at risk for significant health problems as well as an earlier death. If you can’t help yourself, you can’t help anyone else, and everyone loses.
2. GET HELP. Help can come from community resources, family, friends and professionals. Ask them. Don’t wait until you are overwhelmed and exhausted or your health fails. Reaching out for help when you need it is a sign of personal strength. Many don’t know how to ask for help. You don’t want to “burden” others or admit that you can’t handle everything by yourself. You don’t have to do everything, nor does anyone else. Help them be helpful, help yourself and help your loved one by building your support.
3. PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL TIME for something you enjoy or something you have to get done. Your loved one’s needs don’t cancel out your own desires and needs. Even if you do it less frequently, continue doing whatever you’ve always enjoyed – going to church, meeting with friends or family, going to a movie or play, walking the dog, playing cards….
4. PROTECT YOUR BODY. Give yourself time for exercise, eating well, sleeping enough and personal grooming. Caregivers often do a lot of lifting, pushing, and pulling. Learn the proper ways to do these things and protect your back – ask about going through physical therapy training with your loved one. If you have back (shoulder, arm, etc.) problems, have someone else do this, or assist you.
5. REWARD YOURSELF. Caregiving is a big job – provide yourself with frequent respite breaks and regular, even if small, rewards.
6. FIND A SUPPORT GROUP. Use your personal network of family and friends. A support group for caregivers targeted to living with similar issues that you face can provide not only a safe haven, but tips for daily living. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.
7. BE OPEN TO TECHNOLOGIES AND IDEAS that promote you loved one’s independence.
8. WATCH OUT FOR SIGN OF DEPRESSION such as irritability, anxiety, or exhaustion, and get help.
9. GRIEVE FOR YOUR LOSSES, and then allow yourself to DREAM NEW DREAMS. Consider how you will feel and what you will do after the caregiving ends.
10. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Most of the time, you’re right.