COPING WITH CAREGIVER STRESS - A Caregiver’s Perspective

Control and Prevention, Family Caregiving: The Facts. The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates 21% of households in the United States have caregiving responsibilities.

Former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter once said “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.” Mrs. Carter’s words are increasingly true today as the baby boom generation, themselves between 51 and 69 years-old, are becoming more involved with caring for aging spouses, parents, relatives and friends.

“More than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone age 18 and older who is ill or has a disability,” according to the Centers for Disease

As someone who has been a caregiver for an ill spouse, an aging mother and others, I know the challenges and responsibilities first-hand. In addition to my experiences as a caregiver I know the joys and trials of fellow caregivers as a Support Group Facilitator.

Often the assistance can start with help in small things, such as help with laundry, housekeeping, grocery shopping, reminders about taking medications, or driving to appointments. As the individual needing assistance ages or their medical condition becomes worse they may need help with meal preparation, bathing, dressing, mobility assistance, toileting or just being there for companionship. Without realizing it, caregiving has become a major part of your daily activities.

Though I do not believe there is an “average” caregiver I will tell you that the National Alliance for Caregiving (2004) found that “The typical caregiver is a 46 year old woman with some college experience and provides more than 20 hours of care each week to her mother.”

The time spent in caregiving has effects on you physically, emotionally and financially. And just as the caregiving happens gradually, the stress sneaks up on you, too. You may be feeling grouchy, fatigued, emotional and guilty but you don’t know why. You love your family member but you may begin to resent them and that causes guilt which makes you feel worse. You become isolated from family and friends. Caregiving can have an impact on your job. Many caregivers reduce their hours at work or leave full-time employment which can cause financial strain. “About 37% of caregivers for someone age 50 or older reduced their work hours or quit their job in 2007 (AARP, 2008).”

The first step to combating Caregiver Stress is awareness that you can’t do it all. Ask for help and don’t expect others to offer assistance because they may not be aware of what you are going through. Talk to family members, friends, your church and divide the responsibilities – accept offers to bring dinner, do the grocery shopping, come to visit your loved one so you can go out to lunch, get a haircut, or even to call you on a regular basis so you have someone to vent to.

Recognize that you need a break. If you have no support system, consider looking into respite care options. Many non-medical home care agencies (such as Seniors Helping Seniors) can offer in home assistance at affordable prices. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes offer short term “respite” stays. Contact you area Office on Aging, or other agencies offering services such as Meals on Wheels, housekeeping, chore services and transportation to relieve you of some responsibility. Some organizations (i.e. the Alzheimer’s Association) may have respite care funds available to defray the cost of care –depending on their funding constraints.

If you don’t take care of yourself, who will be there to take care of your loved one? Many of us caring for a loved one neglect our own health because we put their needs above ours. Please remember to keep up with your doctors’ visits. To reduce stress try to exercise at least 30 minutes at day – it seems like a lot but it does not have to be done all at the same time – 5-10 minutes at a time will fly by. Get your sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping talk to you doctor. There is no stigma in having your health care practitioner prescribe an antidepressant or sleep aid for a short period of time if he/she thinks you need it.

Lastly, and perhaps the hardest thing, is to accept the situation for what it is. There are things we are not going to be able to change – aging and illness among them. All you can do is all you can do; and all you can do is enough. You need to concentrate on the things you can control. Learn all you can about the illness your family member has or the aging process so you know what to expect. If other family members are not willing to help or can only do so on a limited basis try to let it go and remember not everyone copes with a situation the same way as you might.

Find a Caregiver Support Group so you can share your challenges and talk to people who are in are in a similar situation. Someone in the group may have already faced the challenge you have and could give you advice on how to handle a situation and you may be able to help them also. Just remember you are not alone. Know that what you do is appreciated. You are doing the best you can for your loved one, you have a purpose and perhaps you will pass on the importance of caregiving to you children – we will all need caregivers someday.

I am currently facilitating a Support Group for the Alzheimer’s Association which meets the 2nd Thursday of the month at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, 2949 W. River Rd. Elyria from 6-7 p.m.

I will also be the facilitator for a new, general Caregiver Support Group for caregivers with loved ones with any illness or facing the challenges of aging. It will begin meeting on April 2nd from 1pm-2pm and Trinity Evangelical Free Church, 46485 Middle Ridge Road, Amherst and continue the first Thursday of every month.

Should you have any questions about the support groups or resources which may be able to assist you and your loved one please contact me at 440-935-5985. For a free in-home consultation without obligation call your local Seniors Helping Seniors® organization at 440-935-3848. We will find compassionate, dependable people to come into your home for personal care, mobility assistance, medication reminders, meal preparation, housekeeping, companionship, and much more.