Caregiver Stress – A Growing Health Concern
Caregiver Stress – A Growing Health ConcernT
hroughout rural and urban America people are providing care for family members with chronic health conditions, physical disabilities and memory impairment. According to a Department of Health and Human Services study on Women’s Health in 2102, an estimated 44 million Americans (21% of the adult population) provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 years or older. These family members or “informal caregivers” provide 80% of all long term care in the United States. Care can include housekeeping tasks, meal preparation, shopping, medication assistance, bathing and all aspects of support and safety. Family caregivers may themselves be elderly, middle aged, employed outside of the home or of any other age and situation. Many are also raising children and even grandchildren in addition to providing care for a dependent family member.
Multiple factors contribute to the decision by families to receive and provide care at home. People in need of care usually prefer to be at home. The ability to experience the joys of relationship with those they look after is often the primary reason they care for their family members. Family members can benefit tremendously in terms of intergenerational life and support. It is important to recognize that there can also be risks to the primary caregiver as well as the family.
Caregiver stress, defined as emotional and physical reaction(s), to the demands of care giving is a real and growing health concern. Caregivers are at risk for multiple symptoms: fatigue, inability to concentrate, mood swings, withdrawal, poor diet and physical illness or injury, as a result of expending so many hours every day caring for others. Sometimes the time spent by the caregiver is perceived by other family members as taking away from their needs. Family dynamics can be challenged at all levels.
Committing to provide care for a loved one can be an extremely rewarding endeavor. Caregivers can enjoy the rewards, while managing the challenges in part by learning to recognize caregiver stress and taking the necessary action to care for their own health. Healthy caregivers exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, rest whenever possible, take breaks away, and maintain relationships with friends and family. Millions of others are providing care and it is “O.K.” to talk about the challenges and ask for help.
In our rural setting churches, volunteer groups, state programs and hired caregivers are willing to provide relief. Care facilities offer “respite” services which can provide short term care, up to 30 days, for an individual while the caregiver takes some badly needed time off. Sometimes the best decision for all involved is to move into a residential care setting so the day to day needs of the individual can be met by trained staff and nurses enabling the family members to be in a relationship focussed more on sharing with their loved one. Utilize the support systems available to help you provide care for your loved one and yourselves as you give of yourselves in such a beautiful way.