Family Caregivers Month
“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.” – Rosalyn Carter
There are currently over 75 million family caregivers who provide in-home care for a loved one and millions more searching for care solutions. By the year 2050, there will be over one million centenarians – individuals over the age of 100 – living in the United States and Canada. 1995 marked the first year in which more people died of chronic illness than of acute disease and there has been a steadily increasing need since that time for services, such as non-medical home care, that help in the management of living with chronic disease as opposed to services, such as nursing care, that address acute illness.
Family caregivers fill a vital role in the care team and ensure continuity of care. They are the most familiar with the care recipients’ medicine regimen; they are the most knowledgeable about the treatment regimens; and they understand best the dietary and exercise plans. However, family caregivers also have extremely high burnout rates, with stress-related physical and emotional impacts such as back pain and depression. In fact, around 55% of family caregivers exhibit depressive symptoms. Further, a lack of formal training can prevent a loved one from receiving the best possible care.
The Signs of Burnout
Psychologists define burnout as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress.” Because burnout is not tangible—burnout isn’t immediately, outwardly apparent in the way that sore throat or rash are, for example, family caregivers can often deny or simply be unaware of the signs of burnout. Sometimes burnout is noticed first by other family members and friends around you. Pay attention to these warning signs:
- Feeling pessimistic and dissatisfied
- Decreased energy or emotional exhaustion
- Withdrawing from friends or social interactions
- Loss of interest in work or enjoyable activities
- Increased use of alcohol or medication to relax
- Becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative
- Lowered resistance to illness
The most important step that you can take to combat burnout is to closely monitor your stress level. A high stress level lowers resistance to disease and leads to fatigue, depression and eventually, burnout. The following strategies can help:
1. Find a caregiver support group.
Most communities have services or groups where you can confide in others who are also caregivers and receive emotional support. Call your local senior center, area Agency on Aging, hospital senior services, physician or church. If you can’t leave the house, search the Internet for support groups.
2. Set reasonable limits.
You can’t be a successful caregiver if you give until there is nothing left. Be realistic about how much time and energy you can devote to care giving and know when you need to pull back and tend to your own needs. Prioritize tasks so that you have a manageable load of activities to plan.
3. Take care of your health.
You owe it to yourself to make time for your own heath. Take a walk or do some form of regular exercise at least 20 minutes, two or three times a week. Be sure to eat a variety of foods, including the 7 super foods—blueberries, dark chocolate, fish, nuts, eggs, vegetables and flax seed. Also make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
4. Incorporate joy into your life.
Do things you enjoy on a daily basis. Listen to music, garden, cook, go see a movie, or just walk the dog. Think about activities you’ve done in the past that you found enjoyable and try to find the time to continue to partake in these activities.
5. Reach out for help.
There are a many resources for help with caregiving responsibilities. Call a friend, family member, or even a volunteer from a senior center or church and suggest specific things that they can do to help you. You can also hire a caregiver from a reputable home care agency, such as the leading provider of in-home care, Home Care Assistance, to provide respite care so that you can recharge.
Evaluate the impact that caregiving has on your life with this assessment.
If you are one of the millions of family caregivers experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression, a weakened immune system, increased stress levels or sleep deprivation, you may be experiencing “burnout”.
Led by Barbara Kivowitz and Roanne Weisman, co-authors of the book In Sickness As In Health: Helping Couples Cope with the Complexities of Illness, the webinar will cover what happens when chronic illness becomes part of a relationship and how to balance the roles of caregiver and loved one to ensure you provide optimal support.
In observance of Family Caregiver Month, we are offering a FREE download of our award-winning book, The Handbook of Live-In Care: A Guide for Family Caregivers.
(click on the book to begin download)
Dr. Hoblyn, chief medical officer at eTherapi.com and Professor at Stanford University, discusses Caregiver Burnout and How to Protect Your Health.Download Webinar