Did you know that, according to a survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP in 2015, there are approximately 43.5 million caregivers in the United States? With the 65+ age group expected to double to 70 million people by 2030, family caregivers are likely to increasingly provide care for aging parents, siblings, and friends.
Caregiving for a loved one can be very rewarding, and it can also involve a lot of stress. Often, caregiving is a long-term challenge, and the emotional and physical impact on the caregiver can multiply over time. Signs of caregiver stress and burnout include: anxiety and depression, feeling tired, difficulty sleeping, overreacting to minor problems, new or worsening health problems, trouble concentrating, increasing feelings of resentment, drinking and/or smoking more, eating more or less than usual, and cutting back on leisure activities.
To practice self-care, while caregiving, start by trying to recognize what may be causing stress and take actions to manage it. It may seem like everything is stressful, but often there are one or two aspects of caregiving that make it particularly stressful. This could be whether your caregiving is voluntary or whether you felt you had no other choice but to provide care. It could be the nature of your relationship with the person you are caring for or your coping abilities created from stressful events in the past. It could also be the nature of the caregiving arrangement (for example, caring for a person with dementia may be more stressful than caring for someone with a physical limitation) or whether you have additional support available.
Once you have identified the source(s) of stress, ask if it is something you have control over. If it is, then take action. Look for solutions with an open mind. Try on different perspectives. Ask a friend to help you brainstorm. From the list of possible solutions, pick one and try it. Evaluate the results and decide if you should try something different. Use other resources and be sure to ask friends, family, and professionals for suggestions.
Think about the next 3-6 months, and decide what you would like to accomplish. This could include taking a total break from caregiving, finding help for particular caregiving tasks (like bathing or meals), making appointments for your own health and personal care, or even engaging in activities that you enjoy (like going for a walk or spending time with a friend). Once you set a goal, decide what the first step is and when you will do it.
Also, ask for help. Often, the barrier for help is not a lack of other people wanting to help. Many caregivers struggle with accepting help, in part because they do not know how best to use that help. Right now, start making a list of things that someone could do that would be helpful. For example, someone could take the person you care for on a 15-minute walk a couple times a week. A neighbor could pick up groceries once a week. A family member could fill out insurance paperwork. Keeping a list of simple tasks will make it easier to accept help when it is offered.
For more ways to support caregivers and assistance in long term care planning for you or a loved one, please contact our office.