What is a caregiver?
A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need. Usually, the person receiving care has a condition such as dementia, cancer, or brain injury and needs help with basic daily tasks. Caregivers help with many things such as:
- Grocery shopping
- House cleaning
- Paying bills
- Giving medicine
- Using the toilet
People who are not paid to provide care are known as informal caregivers or family caregivers. The most common type of informal caregiving relationship is an adult child caring for an elderly parent. Other types of caregiving relationships include:
- Adults caring for other relatives, such as grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles
- Spouses caring for elderly husbands or wives
- Middle-aged parents caring for severely disabled adult children
What is caregiver stress?
Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. It can take many forms. For instance, you may feel:
- Frustrated and angry taking care of someone with dementia who often wanders away or becomes easily upset
- Guilty because you think that you should be able to provide better care, despite all the other things that you have to do
- Lonely because all the time you spend caregiving has hurt your social life
- Exhausted when you go to bed at night
Caregiver stress appears to affect women more than men. About 75 percent of caregivers who report feeling very strained emotionally, physically, or financially are women.
Although caregiving can be challenging, it is important to note that it can also have its rewards. It can give you a feeling of giving back to a loved one. It can also make you feel needed and can lead to a stronger relationship with the person receiving care.
Can caregiver stress affect my health?
Although most caregivers are in good health, it is not uncommon for caregivers to have serious health problems. Research shows that caregivers:
- Are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis
- Have higher levels of stress hormones
- Spend more days sick with an infectious disease
- Have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine
- Have slower wound healing
- Have higher levels of obesity
- May be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention
One research study found that elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of their disabled spouses were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than caregivers who were not feeling stressed.
Part of the reason that caregivers often have health problems is that they are less likely to take good care of themselves. For instance, women caregivers, compared with women who are not caregivers, are less likely to:
- Get needed medical care
- Fill a prescription
- Get a mammogram
Also, caregivers report that, compared with the time before they became caregivers, they are less likely to:
- Get enough sleep
- Cook healthy meals
- Get enough physical activity
How can I tell if caregiving is putting too much stress on me?
Caregiving may be putting too much stress on you if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling constantly worried
- Often feeling sad
- Frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs
Talk to a counselor, psychologist, or health professional right away if your stress leads you to physically or emotionally harm the person you are caring for.
What can I do to prevent or relieve stress?
To begin with, never dismiss your feelings as “just stress.” Caregiver stress can lead to serious health problems and you should take steps to reduce it as much as you can.
Research shows that people who take an active, problem-solving approach to caregiving issues are less likely to feel stressed than those who react by worrying or feeling helpless. For instance, someone with dementia may ask the same question over and over again, such as, “Where is Mary?” A positive way of dealing with this would be to say, “Mary is not here right now,” and then distract the person. You could say, “Let’s start getting lunch ready,” or involve the person in simple tasks, such as folding laundry.
There are seminars for family caregivers that can teach you how to care for someone with the disease that your loved one is facing.
Here are some more tips for reducing stress:
- Find out about caregiving resources in your community
- Ask for and accept help.
- Don’t feel guilty that you are not a “perfect” caregiver. Just as there is no “perfect parent,” there is no such thing as a “perfect caregiver.” You’re doing the best you can.
- Prioritize, make lists, and establish a daily routine.
- Stay in touch with family and friends.
- Join a support group for caregivers in your situation.
- Make time each week to do something that you want to do, such as go to a movie.
- If you need financial help taking care of a relative, don’t be afraid to ask family members to contribute their fair share.
- Take breaks, so you can take care of yourself. Access in-home respite services, or contact a local assisted living facility as many offer short stay respite options.
Adapted from source: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/caregiver-stress.cfm#a