There are over 43 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S., which means you probably know someone caring for a family member, either within your own family or in your circle of friends. Caring for an elderly or disabled family member is one of the most rewarding parts of many people’s lives, but it can also be one of the most stressful and emotionally draining.
A quarter of caregivers report that taking care of a loved one is an emotional strain, and the impact isn’t only emotional. Older caregivers have a higher mortality rate than non-carers of the same age, with more heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. They are also less likely to seek help when they need it.
Without the help and support of family members and friends, caregivers can become detached from their everyday life, overstressed, and depressed.
What Is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregivers often put on a brave face even when they’re unhappy and psychologically stressed. They’re aware that a loved one depends on them, and they don’t want to put that person’s care in jeopardy. The result can be a gradual increase in physical and emotional stress to the point at which caregivers can no longer cope. They burn out, and it becomes harder for them to look after their loved ones or themselves.
Caregiver stress syndrome can impact any caregiver, but it is particularly prevalent in new caregivers. Entering the caregiving role requires a radical change in the nature of their relationship with the person they are caring for. In addition to being a daughter or son, a wife or husband, they take on the responsibility of the physical and mental wellbeing of someone they may have known for decades. Caregivers and those cared for often struggle to adapt, with complex emotions to be negotiated on both sides.
Caring for a loved one is time-consuming, and caregivers frequently lose contact with their friends and the social circle they relied on for support, leaving them lonely and unable to reach out for help.
What Are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
Caregivers need the love and support of their family and friends. Ideally, they get help before they become depressed, overstressed, and burnt out. But it can be hard to tell if a caregiver feels stressed or depressed because they may try to “keep calm and carry on” as though everything is fine.
Here are some of the signs of burnout in caregivers:
- They no longer make time for hobbies and activities that previously played a significant role in their life.
- They seem irritable or apathetic. They may not be obviously sad or depressed; flat affect, a lack of apparent emotional response, and anhedonia, the inability to enjoy pleasurable activities, are common signs of stress and depression.
- They may stop caring for their physical appearance or hygiene.
- They may rapidly lose or gain weight, and they may begin to overuse alcohol or prescription medication.
A combination of these signs can indicate that caregivers are failing to look after themselves, either because they are emotionally exhausted or because they simply don’t have time.
How Can I Help My Family Caregiver?
It is difficult to give general advice: every situation involves unique circumstances and personalities, but as a relation or friend of a family caregiver, you can help in several ways.
- Don’t add to the emotional burden: Understand that family caregivers may not have as much time as they once did to talk to you or join in social activities. Criticizing them for focusing on caregiving creates additional stress and feelings of guilt.
- Listen to them: Loneliness adds to the burden of caregiving. Caregivers can rarely talk about their physical and mental difficulties with the person they spend most of their time with. They often appreciate having someone outside of that relationship to talk to. But, don’t force it. People are different, and some may not want to talk.
- Make yourself available on their schedule: Caregivers’ time may not be as flexible as they would like. If you want to help, try to fit around their schedule, and don’t be upset if plans change at the last minute.
- Offer practical help: If you can, help out with chores like shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Even something as simple as picking up food can provide an hour of much-needed respite
- Show your appreciation: Let caregivers know that you understand, empathize, and appreciate what they’re doing. Caregivers don’t dedicate hours to another person’s wellbeing in expectation of reward or appreciation, but a simple gift or expression of thanks can mean a lot.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic made caregiving even more isolating. Millions of caregivers found themselves alone with a vulnerable person for long periods, exacerbating the loneliness and stress. If you have a caregiver in your family, take the time to help where you can. It will be appreciated.
About the Author: Aaron Goldsmith is the owner of Transfer Master, a company that has built electric adjustable hospital beds for the home and medical facility since 1993. He started with a simple goal that hospital beds should allow wheelchair users to transfer independently in and out of bed. Twenty-five years later, his customers are still at the center of everything he does. For more information, be sure to visit transfermaster.com or contact the team via email.
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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.
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