Caregiving is a natural part of our lives.
At every stage of life, we are taking care of others in some capacity. It’s hard to imagine going through life without the responsibility of caring for another individual.
Having positive human relationships requires the need to think about another person’s needs. Marriage, children, careers, and families constitute a life of concern for others. It is noble. It is the way we are built, and often, we gauge another’s character by how giving and caring they are.
Caregiving means sacrifice
The ability to subjugate your own needs or wants to another is viewed with the utmost respect. But it is hard. We are well aware of the need for caregivers, but the role itself is a well-known health risk.
According to www.caregiving.org, “A large and growing body of evidence reveals that providing care for a chronically sick person can have harmful physical, mental, and emotional consequences for the caregiver. As families struggle to care for others, their health is put in danger. As a result, caregiver health is quickly becoming a public health issue that requires more focused attention from health professionals, policymakers, and caregivers themselves to ensure the health and safety of those individuals dedicating their lives to the care of others.”
The term Caregiver should be listed as a diagnosis on medical charts because it is a major risk factor like smoking or obesity.
Caregivers are heroes
Caregiving is a cocktail made of love, tenderness, sacrifice, frustration, anger, and a generous serving of guilt. It is an extremely physical and emotional job. Research tells us that the emotional piece may be the most demanding and dangerous for the caregiver.
What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. They may include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
Why Caregiver Substance Abuse is common
For some, the stress of caregiving becomes severe enough to turn to alcohol and drug abuse as a way to cope. It can start slowly, but over time may become dangerous for the caregiver and their loved one.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “caregivers are shown to have increased alcohol and other substance use.” More than 51 percent of caregivers report taking more medication as a result of their role as a caregiver. About 10 percent report regularly abusing drugs or alcohol more often, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Caresharing is the ideal situation.
The best scenario is when caregiving can be “care-sharing.”
A circle of caring is the best scenario, where there is an opportunity for “time off” for everyone involved.
It seems that guilt is the self-limiting idea that prevents allowing others to help. To play the superhero is critically dangerous because when the caregiver is suddenly incapacitated, there is no safety net available.
Asking family members or friends to give you an hour or two off can make a huge difference.
Church groups and other civic-minded groups could offer to do the same. There is a limit to their technical ability, but just sitting and visiting is sometimes enough.
Frequently the caregiver simply will not ask for help because they feel guilty or like they are imposing. However, asking for assistance could be lifesaving.
There are professional companies that offer these services called Private Duty.
Some senior health communities in Kansas City offer respite care.
That would mean placing a loved one in a care community for a short time. It allows caregivers to have time off, go on a trip, or just recharge themselves.
Although many caregivers struggle with leaving their loved one even for a few hours, the balance is the risk of not doing enough self-care to stay healthy.
Anecdotally, my nephew, who cares for his wife with advanced dementia, had a major heart attack. He was an otherwise healthy 60-year-old man. The result was a desperate scramble to find round the clock care while he was in the hospital and during his recovery.
We must not forget that professional caregivers may suffer from the same risks.
Senior care facilities in Kansas City are staffed with dedicated professionals. It is important to recognize and appreciate the work they do and the stressors that come with this work.
Obviously, they have chosen this work because of their dedication to healthcare and elders. The fact that they have chosen this career path does not mean they escape the pressures that family caregivers experience.
Like other civil servants and first responders in our communities, we should express our appreciation to all healthcare providers, especially those who care for our elders.
Are you interested in learning more about The Piper? Please feel free to contact us today with any questions.