Opinion

Stress of family caregiving can require outside support

SENIOR

MATTERS

One of the most stressful jobs around today isn’t found in corporate America. Rather, it’s a job that one in every four Americans wakes up to each morning. Can you guess what it is? It comes with the title, “family caregiver” — a role that brings significant rewards and equally significant challenges.

Statistics from a recent report tell the story. This information was collected through Home Instead Senior Care’s Web site, www.caregiverstress.com. About 76 percent of the 8,000 family caregivers who took the company’s stress test reported that their aging loved one’s needs are overwhelming.

Here’s more:

• 91 percent of family caregivers who completed the test said they have episodes of feeling anxious or irritable;

• 73 percent have disturbed sleep patterns; and,

• 56 percent seem to become ill more frequently.

Every day, we encounter these family caregivers: People who love and want the best for their aging family members, but don’t know how to fit it all in. For these compassionate people, stress is a constant companion.

A study released in 2006 by the National Association of Social Workers and the New York Academy of Medicine describes this very well. The study was entitled “Squeezed Between Children and Older Parents: A Survey of Sandwich Generation Women.” The poll, which surveyed more than 1,100 women ages 35 to 54, showed that more than 60 percent of women concerned about an aging relative’s health said they have difficulty managing stress. That compares with 48 percent of women for whom an aging relative’s health was not a worry.

Furthermore, women concerned about an aging relative’s health were about three times more likely (34 percent) to say they worry “a great deal” about having enough time for family. That compares with 12 percent of women who were not responsible for the care of an aging loved one.2

Social workers and other senior care experts often recommend resources to keep seniors independent and to help their family caregivers manage stress. Our Home Instead Senior Care franchise is one such resource. We employ CAREGivers to go into seniors’ homes or care communities and provide them with various non-medical services.

These services, such as companionship, meal preparation, assistance with personal care, light housekeeping, medication reminders, shopping and errands, also help provide a respite for weary family caregivers. And, because they can be just what harried family caregivers need to help fill in the caregiving gaps they may be experiencing, this type of support can help alleviate the stress and worry that caregiving can place on their lives.

Most family caregivers agree there are many rewards associated with this job, so they don’t want to give up caregiving. Rather, they just need some additional support which can make all the difference for them, and for the people to whom they provide care.

In addition to asking for help, there are many things family caregivers can do to take care of themselves. Here are some tips:

1. Work out: exercise and enjoy something you like such as walking, dancing, biking, running or swimming for a minimum of 20 minutes three or more times per week.

2. Meditate: sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as “quiet” as possible whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver.

3. Take a break: make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers).

4. Eat well: eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains.

5. Attend to your own medical needs: just like you make sure your loved one gets to the doctor regularly, make sure you get your annual checkup.

6. Indulge: treat yourself to a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative.

7. Support: find a local caregiver support group, which will help you understand that what you are experiencing is normal for someone in your position.

John P. Hopkins is a certified senior advisor and franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care in Bremerton. He appears the last Friday of the month in the Bremerton Patriot.

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