With an aging population, more adult children are finding themselves faced with the difficult dilemma of caring for aging parents. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that nearly 34 million Americans provide caregiver services to someone over 18 who suffers from illness or disability. Roughly 83% are family members. This means there are approximately 28.2 million unpaid family caregivers providing these services to loved ones every year.
While caring for an elderly loved one can be a rewarding endeavor, it is not without its complications. This is especially true when it comes at the peak of one’s careers or perhaps while still raising minor children. Unfortunately, AARP only about 61% reach out to friends and family for help. But there is hope.
What is caregiver stress, and how do I recognize it?
Caregiver stress is exactly what it sounds like. It is caused by ongoing and constant responsible for a loved one who needs routine care. This may mean assisting a loved one with activities of daily living (ADL’s), such as eating, bathing, using the restroom, changing adult diapers. It can also include monitoring medications, providing transportation to and from doctor appointments, supervising and making physical changes to the home environment, and even acting as a health care surrogate or power of attorney for decision making. All of these can create an overwhelming amount of stress and lead to personal negative health consequences.
Signs that someone is suffering from caregiver stress include:
• Exhaustion • Nervousness or constant awareness and heightened alert for dangers • Becoming isolated from friends and family • Budgeting problems and financial insecurity • Feelings of depression or despair
These are just a handful of the many signs and symptoms. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these signs of caregiver stress, here are just 4 simple strategies that can help. Nothing is 100% effective, but these may help reduce some of the worry and stress and allow a caregiver to regroup and refresh.
1. Enlist the help of family or close friends
It can sometimes seem impossible to find the time to go shopping, watch a movie, or spend time alone. A caregiver may feel that she has no support, and this may be true for some. However, most people are able to think of someone they can call, whether it is a close friend or family member who lives nearby. While they too may be busy with life’s challenges, do not hesitate to ask if they would be willing or able to watch your loved one for just two hours per week. Start small. Expect people to balk or be nervous. If two hours is too much, see if they would be willing to try just 30 minutes whenever they have some free time. If so, this could provide a much-needed break.
2. Make time for yourself
As the first suggestion indicates, it is crucial to find moments to be alone and do the things you need to do, even if only a few minutes each week. If you are able to free up just two hours per week, be sure to take the time to do something you enjoy. Perhaps you would like to tend to a garden. Maybe it is as simple as going grocery shopping alone. Some caregivers find it nice to go to a movie alone. If your role has become particularly exhausting, you may just choose to take a nap. Whatever you decide, you must find time to be yourself. Much like the advice given to young parents, you need this time to refresh so that you can face the challenge of being a caregiver.