As more of the population continues to age, many older adults are relying on friends and family caregivers to close the gap in the demand for healthcare. There are more nonprofessional primary caregivers than ever before.
According to a survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute, in 2015, an estimated 43.5 million American adults provided unpaid care, with nearly 85% caring for a family member or parent. Caring for an aging parent can often fall on one person in the family, especially those who live nearby. While caregiving can be a rewarding experience, it can also present many issues for a family caregiver. The same survey reported that 40% of caretakers felt emotionally stressed, and almost 20% said caregiving caused financial problems and physical strain. When unaddressed, long-term stress, often referred to as caregiver burnout, can negatively affect overall health and increase the risk factors for chronic illnesses and depression. The first step in addressing caregiver stress is to be able to recognize and identify the symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress
For most caregivers, providing care for a loved one can be a fulfilling responsibility. However, with any transition or life event, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. At some point, family caregivers will likely experience burnout, which may manifest itself with symptoms such as anger, stress, exhaustion, or loneliness. According to the Mayo Clinic, these factors can increase the risk of caregiver stress in individuals:
Living with the person for whom you provide care
Feeling socially isolated
Living with a depression diagnosis
Experiencing financial strain
Caregiving most hours of the day
Lacking coping skills and problem-solving abilities
Lacking choice in being a caregiver
If you or a loved one is caring for a family member, such as an aging parent, it’s important to look for the signs of caregiving stress and acknowledge them quickly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are a few of the most common signs of caregiver stress:
Watching your loved one deal with an illness is both emotionally and physically difficult. Denial is a natural coping mechanism and can be a sign that a caregiver is beginning to experience tremendous stress. Denying a loved one’s disease or even denying feelings of stress are common among family caregivers.
It’s common to feel anger toward the person with the disease or illness for not being able to do the things they once did. Role reversal can spark anger in family members, especially adult children, as they begin to care for their parents.
Social withdrawal. You may notice a caregiver has withdrawn from people or social events they once enjoyed.
Anxiety. Primary caregivers experiencing stress may also show signs of anxiety about the future. It’s common for caregivers to worry about how they’ll provide care as their loved one’s condition progresses.
Exhaustion. Caregiving is a physically and emotionally demanding responsibility, which can result in exhaustion. Caregivers may experience sleeplessness due to distress or disrupted sleep if care is needed throughout the night. Either way, sooner or later exhaustion will set in, adding to caregiver burnout.
Irritability. Coupled with exhaustion and anxiety, you may notice a caregiver becoming irritable. Moodiness and unlikely behaviors are also signs of caregiver stress.
Lack of concentration. A primary caregiver can become so overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks that they lose the ability to concentrate on one task at a time. This can lead to missing appointments or mismanaging medications.
Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout
When you notice a caregiver struggling or experiencing stress, there are several things you can do to help. It can be difficult for a primary caregiver to admit they need additional support. The best way to help is to offer. Here are a few ways to alleviate stress and anxiety for a family caregiver:
Prioritize caregiver health. Caregivers are better able to take care of their loved ones if they prioritize their own health. You might consider showing your support to your family caregiver by preparing healthy meals or taking over caregiving duties so they can exercise, go to their own doctor appointments, or spend time doing something for themselves.
Create a support group. If you have a family member acting as a primary caregiver, there are many ways to help out even if you live far away. Consider organizing other family members or friends to chip in with peripheral support.
Some examples include:
- Schedule a regular phone call for social support.
- Offer to deliver meals from time to time.
- Help with bill-paying, medical paperwork or other accounting necessities.
- Provide respite by taking over caregiving for a few hours.
- Caregiving really can’t be done alone. Family caregivers need support, even if they’re reluctant to ask for it.
- Encouraging breaks. Taking a break is one of the best things a caregiver can do for themselves. Family members can help support their caregivers by encouraging things like respite care and adult care centers. Medicare will usually cover most of the cost of respite care in which an aide comes to the home to provide care or the individual stays in a hospital or nursing facility. Adult care centers can also provide a nice break during the daytime, so caregivers can attend to their own needs or use the time to take a break.
- Help set realistic goals. If your family member is feeling stressed about their responsibilities, consider helping them break down large tasks into smaller steps. When we feel stressed, it can be difficult to remember how to prioritize tasks and organize our days. Offering help and encouragement can make your family member feel supported.
- Provide resources. There are a variety of resources designed specifically for family caregivers, but it can be difficult to look for them when experiencing stress or anxiety. Other family members can compile and organize a list of resources for additional support. Providing links to websites, such as the Family Caregiver Alliance, support groups, and respite care options can help your caregiver find the support they need when they need it.
Supporting Caregivers at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know caregiving has its joys and challenges. That’s why we offer a wide variety of support for caregivers providing care for family members. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.