Even as our population ages and disorders like stroke and dementia are on the rise, one essential role in the world of healthcare is often overlooked – the role of the caregiver. And because professional help is often not available, the caregiver role frequently falls to a family member – a parent, a spouse, or an adult child.
This is a particularly difficult role to fill because it is an unpaid labor of love. This sounds lovely but a caregiver’s financial responsibilities don’t suddenly stop because they are taking care of a loved one. They must often continue to work, leaving them on the clock 24 hours a day. Alternativey, they may have to cut back on their work to accommodate caregiving, leaving them in a financially fragile position.
These individuals may also miss out on the activities that are important for their psychological well-being such as social events or religious participation. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people providing substantial care (defined as 28 hour per week or more) are “more than five time as likely to miss out on activities they value and three times as likely to be less productive at work.”
Physically, caregiving can take a significant toll, particularly when mobility is an issue for the patient needing care.
These factors can combine to cause burnout, depression, and even illness in the caregiver.
There are steps that you, as a caregiver, can take to alleviate these issues, but first you must recognize when you are facing caregiver burnout. It’s easy to get swept up in the day’s responsibilities and forget to check in with yourself. Pay attention to fatigue, difficulty sleeping, unusual weight gain or loss, anxiety or depression, or other unpleasant or out of the ordinary feelings you experience throughout the day. Once you recognize the issue you can do something about it. Here we offer three ways to get ahead of caregiver burnout:
First, acknowledge that you are facing burnout and ask for help. The old airline adage of securing your own oxygen mask first applies here. This is one of the more difficult things to do for many people, but there are ways to make it easier. For example, make a list of all the tasks you perform – grocery shopping, pharmacy trips, doctor appointments, laundry, lawn care, house cleaning, cooking, etc. Have that list ready and when someone asks, show them and allow them to take something off your plate. The AARP Prepare to Care Guide can help you keep details organized so just about anyone can step in and help when needed.
Second, make time for yourself. Think about this in small and big doses. Take short daily breaks to take a walk, meditate, or participate in some other activity that you find refreshing. In addition, take less frequent but longer breaks to truly care for yourself, whether it’s to get yourself to the dentist or doctor, or to participate in an activity you value. Respite care may be the thing you need to get away for a break and return refreshed and ready to provide the most loving care possible.
Finally, if you find yourself feeling sad, hopeless, or even suicidal, seek medical help. These feelings, among others, may be signs of depression, a medical condition that can be treated by a healthcare professional. The demands of caregiving often have a negative effect on mental health. This is not unusual, and it’s nothing to hide, so speak out about your needs and get the help you deserve.
At Hunt Regional Medical Partners we want to help you as you provide care for your loved one. If you struggle with physical or mental health concerns as a result of your responsibilities, get in touch so we can help you access community resources to lift some of the weight of caregiving.