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If You’re a Family Caregiver, Don’t Forget to Care for Yourself
Family members caring for someone who needs assistance due to aging, illness or a workplace injury do so with love, but often with little training or support. This situation can be physically and emotionally draining, and caregiver stress is common. If you are among the approximately 44 million Americans currently providing this unpaid assistance, it’s important to recognize and address the symptoms of caregiver stress. This will help you stay healthy and better able to manage the enormous responsibilities you have taken on. Symptoms of caregiver stress or burnout include:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and activities
- Feeling irritable and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
- Getting sick more often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person you are caring for
Why Are Caregivers Stressed?
Caring for someone who cannot care for themselves can be hard work and not always welcomed. Receiving assistance with bathing, dressing and eating can be depressing for someone who is used to doing these and other activities of daily living (ADLs) on their own. Lashing out at the caregiver is not unusual. Assisting someone with dementia can be especially challenging as their condition progresses and they no longer understand or recognize the caregiver.
Understanding why a person is angry and acting out doesn’t necessarily make their behavior easier to deal with. Caregivers are at higher risk for health problems related to stress such as depression, stroke and heart disease.
The all-encompassing demands of caregiving can also affect a caregiver’s financial wellbeing. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, more than 17 percent of Americans who work full-time or part-time also care for a disabled family member or friend, and most suffer problems at their jobs due to their responsibilities at home. They may arrive late, leave early or be unable to come to work at all. Caregiver absenteeism costs U.S. employers $25 billion dollars every year. Many caregivers cut back on their working hours, take a less demanding (less well-paying) job or give up working altogether, resulting in less income, a loss of job-related benefits and a lack of career advancement. They can’t plan and save for their retirement and often spend their own money to help cover caregiving expenses. These out-of-pocket expenses cost caregivers about $7,000 dollars every year.
What Can Caregivers Do to Reduce Caregiver Stress?
It’s important to understand that you are not alone. Many local governments, nonprofit organizations and houses of worship offer programs and services that can assist you. Your Local Union may also be able to provide assistance.
- Know what community resources are available. Look into:
- Adult day programs
- In-home assistance
- Visiting nurses
- Meal delivery
Consider respite care. Temporary care provided by trained professionals can give you a break for a few hours or help you manage holding a paid job. If the family member has long-term care insurance, the policy can help cover the cost. Medicare and Medicaid may also cover some respite care.
- Find a caregiver support group.
- Take care of yourself. Try to eat well, exercise and rest. Seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Make legal and financial plans while the person being cared for is still able to participate. An attorney specializing in elder law and a financial planner familiar with elder care may be of assistance. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can provide additional information.
The National Institute on Aging offers many suggestions and recommendations that can help caregivers manage their stress. For more information go to www.nia.nih.gov and enter “caregiver” in the search.
- Use the Eldercare Locator, a part of the U.S. Administration on Aging, located at https://eldercare.acl.gov or call 1-800-677-1116.
Providing care for someone who can no longer care for themselves can be overwhelming. However, when you know where to go for assistance, you may be able to make caregiving less of a burden, reduce the effects it can have on your health and still provide the care your loved one needs.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]