Emergency calls to serve as family caregivers go out to many after sudden events, such as after a fall or a death in the family. Sometimes we can see it coming as our loved ones age and know we will soon be up to the plate. Still, it seems to catch us off guard when it happens.
Caregiving for senior loved ones can be a tiring, frustrating, exhausting and guilt-ridden experience — yes, at times that’s all true.
When one is caring for someone with dementia, the caregiving experience is very different than when providing care for someone who needs short term assistance, such as post-surgery. Dementia care can be long and filled with unappreciated moments leading to caregiver burnout especially when we are doing it alone.
Fortunately, those times of feeling overwhelmed and at our wit’s end are not the norm for most caregivers.
A recent study found that a majority of caregivers not only feel fulfilled by caregiving for loved ones but also live longer than their counterparts who are not caregivers.
Caregiver Study Details
Over 3,500 caregivers were studied by the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University, representing a wide range of caregiver types. The caregivers had an average age of 64 years and were primarily females.
Of those studied, 17% reported high levels of strain due to caregiving.
Over a six year period, these family caregivers were 18% less likely to die than the non-caregiving participants.
Why caregivers were more likely to remain healthy was not a subject of this study, but experts in aging feel that caregiving for family members is primarily a rewarding experiencing. Giving back care to parents and grandparents for all that they gave to family was a source of happiness.
It is also thought that having the opportunity to care for family members allows a healing of wounds that may have formed over the years.
Those who don’t have dementia but suffer from a short term illness, such as stroke recovery or surgery, are likely better able to thank the family caregiver and show their gratitude, which can also be a source of healing and its own reward.
Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
It is not always possible to avoid stress so we need to learn strategies on how best to cope with the natural stress we have.
- Identify stressors and try to reduce them if possible.
- Maintain a healthy positive attitude; believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to accomplish, especially when you believe it to be the right thing to do.
- Be alert to physical changes in yourself that could signal too much stress and then make changes.
- Find ways to take a little time for yourself and relax. A ten minute nap, a soothing bath or hot shower, reading a chapter a day in your favorite book or stopping for a refreshing beverage in your busy day.
- Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet to keep yourself fueled for the day’s activities.
- Don’t overlook your own health; get your annual check-ups and preventive health screenings as well as your immunizations.
- Get enough sleep each night and daily rest breaks.
- If you smoke – quit; if you drink – do so in moderation.
- Set goals for yourself that are realistic and achievable, don’t overwhelm yourself with seeking perfection.
- Delegate tasks to others as much as you can, reach out for help and accept help when offered. Realize you can’t (and you don’t have to) do it all! Set up a network of family, friends and aging services that can help you when you are in need. Don’t be afraid to ask!
- Accept what you can’t control but change what is in your control to change!
- Give yourself a break! Pat yourself on the back! Rest assured that you are where you are supposed to be!
The researchers’ state: “Public policy and discourse should recognize that providing care to a family member with a chronic illness or disability is not associated with increased risk of death in most cases, but may instead be associated with modest survival benefits for the caregivers.”
Thank you! We wish you health and happiness in your caregiver’s journey!