Care for the Caregiver

Care for the Caregiver

. 4 min read

Caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you're a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.

As the population ages, more caregiving is being provided by people who aren't health care professionals. About 1 in 3 adults in the United States provides care to other adults as informal caregivers.

A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. However, family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don't self-identify as a "caregiver." This role can help caregivers receive the support they need.

Caregiving can have many rewards. For most caregivers, being there when a loved one needs you is a core value and something you wish to provide.

A shift in roles and emotions is almost certain. It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common. For many, after the experience or death of their loved one causes an uptick in caregiver burnout and for some results in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:

  • Social isolation
  • Having depression
  • Financial difficulties
  • Higher number of hours spent caregiving
  • Lack of coping skills and difficulty solving problems
  • Lack of choice in being a caregiver
  • Living with the person you are caring for

Signs of Caregiver stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you're more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

What can help?

  1. Accept and/or ask for help such as help running errands or cooking a meal for you.
  2. Set realistic goals, it is okay to say no to other things.
  3. Get connected by finding resources online or in your community.
  4. Set health goals for yourself.
  5. Seek a therapist for talk therapy.
  6. Learn relaxation and destressing techniques. (See Relaxation Health Blog).
  7. Contact your church pastor.

It's so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to care for anyone else.

Respite care

It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else's care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself, as well as the person you're caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:

  1. In home care giver to help you
  2. Nursing home for short-term care
  3. Adult daycare

If you work outside the home and you're a caregiver, you may begin to feel very stressed. Nearly 60 percent of caregivers working outside of the home are overwhelmed. If you do, think about taking leave from your job for a period of time.

Employees covered under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.

Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers. To get started, check out the Eldercare Locator or contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. You can find your local AAA online or in the government section of your telephone directory.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Increased Anxiety
  2. If you’ve ever had a night terror then you’ll understand what this is like. Post trauma stress can manifest in your psyche and put you on high alert – all night.
  3. Reliving the Experience: For caregivers this might mean you flashback to your loved one berating you during a time when they were sundowning. It may be feeling like you’ve lost them all over again. It could happen hand-in-hand with increased anxiety, where you’re suddenly on high alert and worried your loved one is wandering around the house.
  4. Physical Pain & Mental Anguish: Many caregivers suffering from PTSD report aches and pains that won’t go away. Additionally, many experience headaches and thoughts of hopelessness. They feel unable to move forward.
  5. Antisocial Behavior: Many caregivers detach from their families and friends, feeling numb, empty, and guilt-ridden.
  6. Turning to alcohol and or substance abuse
  7. Thoughts of self harm

Sunset is often seen as an occasion to celebrate, reflect on our day, spend time with family and unwind. But for those with dementia, sunset can mean a time of increased confusion, frustration and agitation. Also known as “late-day confusion,” Sundowning is a symptom of mid-stage to advanced dementia of Alzheimer’s disease.

Time to seek professional help, call your doctor

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To Your Good Health! Cathy