Welcome back! Last week, we talked about Why Kids Cyberbully. If you missed this blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.
This week, we are going to talk about the caregivers among us. With the Baby Boomers aging out, more and more of us will become caregivers out of sheer necessity. Some folks are caregivers as a profession, others are moms/dads/grandparents raising their grandchildren/foster parents, or children taking care of their elderly parents.
Whoever you are, and whoever you are taking care of, you all have one thing in common: STRESS. It’s very, very stressful to take care of another human being. but add in dementia, Alzheimers, inability to physically transfer to beds or bathtubs, and the stress gets even worse. Without question, our elder hearts are some of the most difficult to keep at home long term.
Maggie Cook agreed to be interviewed for this blog. She started out her career working in group homes, and raising two children as a single mom. Then her parents started to need help as her mother demonstrated signs of dementia. Eventually, her mother needed to have full care, and tag, Maggie was “it“.
“I was always exhausted” Maggie sighed. “My body would be aching so badly that I felt like I couldn’t even get out of bed. My adrenals became fatigued and I started getting horrible headaches. I became worried that the caregiver was going to need a caregiver if something didn’t change“.
Maggie’s experience isn’t unique. Many times, when someone works in the field, family members will assume that they will be the point person when mom and dad start to need care. The family doesn’t realize that after working all day caring for others, a person who works in social services needs time away to recharge their own batteries. Many workers also have children, so they are already coming home to a second responsibility. Add elderly parents onto that stack, and suddenly you have someone who starts to slip into overload.
“Advocating for myself is something that I’m not very good at“, Maggie stated, “but I had to learn that I was just as important as anyone else, and in fact, if I didn’t take care of myself, I was of no use to anyone else“. Maggie had to initiate a family meeting and tell her siblings that she couldn’t do it all on her own. They had to work something else out. Because she and her sisters and brothers all worked full time or lived out of state, assisted living became the topic at hand.
This time of transition can be tough for seniors, and reasonably so. The Center for Disease Control notes that up to 11 to 14 percent of patients who need home health care or hospital care show signs of depression. These living conditions, in which health professionals are constantly intervening in their private space, are fuel for that, and yet, the need for care still persists, regardless of a seniors willingness to go into assisted living or remain home, dependent on home health or adult children.
Aging.com states, “Researchers project that more than 76 million babies were born during the baby boomer generation, meaning it’s reasonable to believe that more (than) 40 million people in the U.S. will cross the “senior” thresh hold in just the next 12 years.“
Wow. That equals a lot of would be caregivers. As the population ages, more and more people will be required to give care who don’t do this for a living, and this will be their first experience caring for an elder heart.
So let’s talk about how to assess and treat the stress that a caregiver faces on a daily basis. The Mayo Clinic gives us these warning signs to look for when evaluating for caregiving burnout:
- “Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
“Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.”
The Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one.
“To help manage caregiver stress:
- Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
- Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
- Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
- Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
- Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
- Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.Many caregivers have issues with sleeping. Not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
- See your doctor. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.“
“It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself — as well as the person you’re caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:
- In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services or both.
- Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
- Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.“
The caregiver who works outside the home
“Nearly 60 percent of caregivers work outside of the home. If you work outside the home and you’re a caregiver, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. If you do, think about taking leave from your job for a period of time.
“Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.“
You aren’t alone
“If you’re like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated and even depressed.
“Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers. To get started, check out the Eldercare Locator or contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. You can find your local AAA online or in the government section of your telephone directory.“
This video is from 2013, but it is just as relevant today as it was the day it was published. You are not alone…