Taking care of a loved one who has dementia, physical disabilities or other age-related conditions makes demands on your time, energy and emotions — demands that, as the Cleveland Clinic warns, “can easily seem overwhelming.” That’s under normal circumstances. But during the times we are living in right now, we know that being a caregiver can be even tougher for everybody.
Caregiving can tax your patience and foster fatigue, frustration, and guilt, becoming a grueling grind that takes a heavy toll on the caregiver’s body and mind. The physical effects are well documented.
CAUSES OF CAREGIVER BURNOUT
Along with the heavy workload and emotional demands of family caregiving, these issues also can contribute to burnout.
• Conflicting demands as you try to balance the needs of the care recipient, coworkers and employers, family members, and yourself.
• Lack of control over money and resources and a lack of the skills needed to effectively manage a loved one’s care.
• Lack of privacy because caregiving may leave you with little time to be alone.
• Role confusion, difficulty separating your roles as caregiver and as the parent, sibling or spouse of the care recipient.
• Unreasonable demands placed upon a caregiver by other family members or the person being cared for.
• Unrealistic expectations about the effect caregiving efforts will have on loved ones with progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
EFFECTS OF CAREGIVER BURNOUT
Researchers have found that among people ages 55 to 75, those who are caregivers experience a 23 percent higher level of stress hormones, according to the American Psychological Association. That can lead to high blood pressure and elevated glucose levels, contributing factors to hypertension and diabetes.
Caregivers also show a 15 percent lower level of immune response than non-caregivers, making them more vulnerable to the flu and other infections.
Over time, that physical and psychological wear and tear can lead to caregiver burnout — a condition of feeling exhausted, listless and unable to cope. It can cause caregivers to make mistakes that could endanger a loved one, such as mismanaging medication, or lead to a variety of unhealthy behaviors.
Here is a tool to evaluate whether tending to a loved one is taking a toll is an 18-question caregiver self-assessment called “How Are You?” the American Medical Association developed, and the American Psychological Association recommends.
IDEAS TO REDUCE CAREGIVER STRESS
Give us a call. Dowda Senior Consultants is here to help support you in every way that we can. We have trusted and vetted resources, professionals to work with you, and many ways to help relieve your stress.
Give yourself a break. Ask a friend or relative to fill in for you for a few hours occasionally so you can take a walk, watch a movie or go out to dinner.
Simplify your communication. Keeping extended family and friends up to date about your loved one’s situation through phone calls or individual emails can be tiring, and you may not want to broadcast that information on social media.
Join a support group. If you feel like you’re alone in your struggle, talking with other family caregivers can lift your spirits and help you think through solutions to various problems.
You may be able to find a support group through a local church or hospital, or at the website of the Well Spouse Association, which coordinates a national network of groups for spousal caregivers.
If you’re taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a locator for support groups in your area. AARP has an online caregiving forum and a Facebook discussion group where caregivers can share information and advice, and the Family Caregiver Alliance operates an online support group that communicates via email.
Dowda Senior Consultants offers to cover the costs of an on-line education and support group offered by our teammate Missy Harden. So many have found it incredibly helpful and supportive and we would love for you to join in our next session.
Nurture positive relationships. You may be overwhelmed, but take the time to talk with your closest friends and family members.
Spend an evening with someone who is a good listener. Limit your interactions with negative people who will drag down your mood and perspective.
Take care of your own health. Set a goal to establish a good sleep routine and to exercise a certain number of hours every week.
Be sure to eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. See your doctor for recommended immunizations and screenings.
Tell your physician that you’re a caregiver and bring up any concerns you may have. A daily relaxation, prayer, and meditation practice can be beneficial as well.
Sources: AARP, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine