/ Jan-Feb 2006 /
More than one quarter of the
adult population (26.6%) has provided care for a chronically ill,
disabled or aged family member or friend during the past year.
Based on current data, that translates into more than 50 million
people! Sixty-one percent of “intense” caregivers (those providing
at least 21 hours of care a week) have suffered from depression.
Heavy-duty caregivers, especially spousal caregivers, do not get
consistent help from other family members. One study has shown that
as many as three fourths of these caregivers are “going it alone.”
Is it any surprise that caregiver stress or burnout is becoming a
Dealing with stress is not a new
concept. None of us have immunity from the challenges of getting
through life with the least amount of stress. Some people drink,
over eat, smoke, bite their nails, yell at the cat, or retreat
inside themselves when the going gets too tough. I’m sure you have
your own ways of protecting yourself from the ravages of stress. I
have often thought my cat has the right idea when stress enters her
life. After one loud meow and an angry swish of her tail, she
retreats to another room to take a nice long two-hour snooze. Bamm!
The stress is gone. Unfortunately, people do not have the same
Are you caught in the web of
stress while being a caregiver? In the book, “Living with Stroke”,
there is an interesting section on stroke stress analysis. People
list nine sentences that sum up all the different ways that stress
exhibits itself in families of stroke survivors. Do any of these
ring a bell with you?
“Ohmigod, I can’t handle this.”
if he needs me in the middle of the night and I can’t hear
that leads to over-optimism
he’ll be fine. He just needs to come
Irritability and Anger
all the rehabilitation team’s fault.”
can’t stand one more thing going wrong!”
utterly, completely exhausted from the experience.”
Hopelessness and helplessness
the use? Nothing’s going to change.”
can I be so angry at him? It’s not fair.”
don’t know how I feel anymore. I can’t make a decision
If you are a caregiver, I’m sure you find
yourself nodding your head at more than a few of these stress
indicators. I often say that caregiving is not something that
people plan on or sign up for. It is a situation that sort of plops
itself in your lap, totally unexpected. Caregivers are usually
overwhelmed, untrained, and uneducated in the beginning. With time
comes a sense of control that can help you through. Being out of
control in any situation can knock a person off balance. Don’t be
too hard on yourself as you muddle through this. You are a rookie
now, but you are getting some heavy on-the-job training.
Here are some tips that I have found
to be helpful in getting your life in balance again.
When well-meaning people offer to help, accept
their help. Be specific in things you could use help with. Now
is not the time to show the world how strong you are. You will
only burn out quicker without help.
Watch out for signs of depression. Get
professional help if you need to.
Educate yourself about your loved one’s
condition. Information is empowering!
Trust your gut feelings. I’m a firm believer in
our innate instincts. If something sounds out of whack to you,
keep asking questions until you are satisfied that the best care is
Find other caregivers to connect with. There
are many caregiver websites and support groups that can be found.
If there are none in your area, start your own. Believe me, you
need somebody to talk to that understands what you are going
Be kind to yourself. Even if you only take a
ten-minute walk around the block to alleviate some stress, DO IT. A
caregiver with a lower stress level makes a much better caregiver.
Getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating balanced meals reduces
If you are caring for a parent and have
siblings, be vocal about what they can do to help. Some people are
not comfortable with the day-to-day care but they might be willing
to grocery shop for you, pick up meds, or do a doctor’s run or two.
Don’t be a martyr. Your emotional health cannot take it. Face it
and get on with it.
Take charge of your life and continue to do
things that you find relaxing or pleasurable. If a loved one’s
disability always takes center stage instead of your needs, you will
become a resentful caregiver. Not good for anyone.
Write down things to keep your head uncluttered.
Having ongoing lists of medications your loved one is taking
will not only alleviate the stress of trying to remember what and
when, but it is also a valuable tool when visiting the doctor. It’s
all written out and accessible. Doctors are often rushed and cannot wait around while you try to remember which meds are
causing what side effects, etc. Keep it simple and easy on
yourself in ways that you can.
Keep your sense of humor. It’s the most important tool you have
and it’s free. Humor can be found in the most surprising places,
even hospitals and nursing homes. Laughter is good for the soul.
Know your limitations! Don’t let guilt get in
the way of making the best decision for your family member and
yourself. Not everyone can be a caregiver no matter how
good their intentions might be. If you cannot be a caregiver due
to an emotional, physical, financial or locational burden, you do
have choices. You cannot help another if you yourself need help.
The medical needs might warrant the need for assisted living or
long term care. If you must find alternative living arrangements,
make sure they are ones you can live with and serve the best
interest of your loved one! Stay involved and vigilant that the
care remains good.
Caregiving is a huge responsibility. Keeping
the caregiver healthy— physically, mentally, and emotionally — is
vital. Try to find the right balance in your life that allows you
to care for your loved one while caring for yourself.
Other helpful websites for caregivers:
Family Caregiver Alliance:
National Family Caregivers Association:
National Alliance for Caregiving:
Today’s Caregiver: www.caregiver.com