We live at a time when medicine has improved to a point where most Americans can expect to live to 80 years or more. That’s a 30 year increase from the beginning of the last century. The flip side of these medical advances is that many elders face some kind of chronic disability, and these disabilities often require care from a family member. The most common chronic situation afflicting older Americans are arthritis or declining hearing or vision–all of which require assistance to get through a normal day.
More family members are in a position of caretaker than ever before. Statistics show that, in the new millennium, providing care for a family member with a chronic illness or disability is becoming more and more common. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and memory loss are also adding to the caregiver burden. How stressful is it to deal with a loved one’s repeated questions, as well as dealing with moodiness, wandering, and incontinence?
People suffering from dementia cannot be left alone without becoming a danger to themselves or others. As a result, caregivers are often faced with the difficult decision of placing a loved one in a nursing home—which is yet another stressful situation. How do you go about choosing one? Who will pay for it? All these various stressors often result in depression for people trying to care for others.
How can the caregiver handle stress better? Here are some suggestions:
Take care of yourself. Make sure to see your doctor for regular check-ups. Usually, we see caregivers neglect their own health problems because they are so absorbed with the care of their loved ones. Caregivers cannot provide care to others, if they become sick themselves.
Recognize the signs of depression. The stress of caregiving can be exhausting and interfere with sleep. Joining a support group is helpful for some caregivers. For others, get evaluated and treated for depression so you can better cope.
Ask for respit care. Many people feel they should bear the burden of caregiving all on its own, that only they can “do it right,” or that it was their duty alone. However, often other family members are quite willing to “take a turn” so that the caregiver can have a few hours during the week off to relax, shop, or visit friends.
There are many community agencies that can provide assistance in the everyday needs of elders. Respite Care allow chronically ill family members or disabled to stay for a week or a month to allow caregivers to have some extended time off and come back refreshed.
Whatever you do, don’t resort to self medication. Many caregivers are tempted to use alcohol more than you would normally, in order to cope with the stress of caregiving. However, the effects of drinking more will make it for you to carry more difficult in the long run. If you think your drinking May be out of control, there is help available, ask your doctor for help.
Don’t try to be Superman or Superwoman. There are limits to what you can do, especially if you suffer from your own medical problems or are senior yourself. Even if you’ve been a caretaker for a while, there comes a time when you cannot continue to operate the same way.
Remember, with caregiving nothing is written in stone. You’re always free to reevaluate such as getting help from new sources, changing living arrangements, or placing your loved once in a nursing home. A good social worker will be able to inform you about the services that are available in your community.