How Are YOU, Family Caregiver — Are You Caring for Yourself?

How often does someone ask you how you are?

Certainly, people ask you how your senior loved one has been, if they are doing well, are they healthy and happy?

Oftentimes friends and families don’t even think to ask family caregivers how they are holding up. But family caregivers may need to be asked.

Getting some support for your caregiving journey, even if it just a simple “how are you doing?”, may be enough to keep you going some days.

Caring for our senior loved ones is not a burden. It’s a privilege to be able to care for them at a time when they need us the most.

Unfortunately, being a caregiver, especially a sandwich generation carer, is overflowing with stress and has been said to be emotionally, physically, and financially draining for family caregivers.

As the population continues to age, being a family caregiver under stress is not limited to a few people but numbers in the tens of millions (estimated around 44 million). That means the stress leading to burnout is a growing problem.

During National Family Caregivers Month, the nation hopes to support family caregivers and educate them about the importance of caring for themselves.

Health Risks for Family Caregivers

The health and well-being of family caregivers has been called the next public health crisis facing our nation.

We depend on family caregivers to meet the needs of aging, community dwelling seniors. Without family caregivers, the healthcare system could not handle senior’s long-term health needs.

Our nation is not caring for family caregivers as we should as can be seen in the prevalence of poor health and increased health risks among family caregivers. The health risk statistics are overwhelming for unpaid family caregivers.

Here are some of the many mounting health concerns shared by family caregivers:

  • Increased risk of depression – overwhelming responsibilities, lack of support, isolation, fatigue, grief over senior loved one’s decline and other factors can negatively impact the mental health of family caregivers.
  • Emotional well-being is overlooked when caregiving. Common emotions include anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness.
  • When caring for a person with dementia, the risk of depression is even greater due to the increased burden of caregiving as functional status of your loved one declines.
  • Untreated depression can lead to substance abuse, self-neglect, and suicide in family caregivers.
  • Chronic diseases are also occurring with greater frequency for family caregivers who aren’t taking time to take care of themselves. They avoid their own healthcare, aren’t eating right, sleep poorly, suffer from stress and don’t get adequate physical activity.
  • Caregivers are less likely to see the doctor for regular checkups and don’t fill their prescriptions as they should to help them stay well.
  • A lowered immune response causes family caregiver to have a higher rate of infection and illnesses. Their antibody response is lower while their stress hormones are higher. Caregivers also have a reduced wound healing ability due to impaired immune response.
  • Twice the incidence of chronic diseases such as heart attack, arthritis, heart disease and diabetes among caregivers compared to their non-caregiver peers.
  • Chronic stress of caregiving can lead to cognitive loss in the caregiver including short term memory loss and attention deficits.
  • Greater dependence on substances such as alcohol, prescription drugs and psychotropic drugs for mood.
  • Higher levels of pain. Caregiving duties put a physical strain on body – muscles and skeleton.
  • Increase in obesity rates among family caregivers.
  • Caregivers are more likely to smoke.

All these concerns and more are why Senior Care Corner® cannot stress enough the need for family caregivers to pay attention to care for their own needs as well.

Caregiver Self-Help Tips

It is easier said than done – it’s true!

Taking care of yourself should be one of your top priorities. You’ve heard the saying, put on your own oxygen before helping others but do you practice that every day?

Caring for yourself will help you avoid burnout.

Why do we worry about burnout? Because if you burn out, who will care for your senior loved one and the others who depend on you each day?

Here are some things you can do to help yourself stay strong:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. No one expects you to do it all by yourself and you are not alone!
  2. Don’t say “no thanks” when someone offers you help. Keep a list of tasks you would love to get done but don’t seem like there is ever time to complete. Be ready to dole these jobs out when you get an offer of help.
  3. Take time to stay engaged with your friends — go out for lunch, go shopping, talk on the phone and just stay connected. Don’t allow yourself to lose your own identity as you care for others.
  4. Schedule “me time” – Do nothing, take a bath, read a book, get your hair or nails done, or treat yourself to a massage. Actually put your own name on the calendar and stick to it.
  5. Take care of your personal health by visiting the doctor, dentist, eye doctor, etc. regularly. Get your preventive health checks and immunizations to keep yourself healthy.
  6. Join a support group either in person, online, chat room or twitter chat to learn more caregiver tips and get the inspiration you need to improve your caregiving journey.
  7. Get respite care so you can get a much needed break for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer if needed. There are options for you to get the respite you need to recharge and rejuvenate yourself.
  8. Thank yourself in case no one else does!

When you put yourself first, you will be better able to care for your senior loved one when you are in the peak of health physically and emotionally.

As we strongly encourage you to care for yourself, we want to thank you for all you do to improve the lives of senior adults.