By Nancy Dexter
According to an article by the American Psychological Association, 66.6% of caregivers for older adults experience adverse symptoms for either mental or behavioral health. 32.9% say their symptoms are related to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. More severely, 30.7% of unpaid caregivers reported serious suicidal ideation. Evidently, the experience of being a caregiver, especially one who is not paid, can have a serious impact on mental health. And given that mental health problems tend to have physical symptoms, it’s safe to say that caregiving can have negative effects on physical health as well.
Such effects may be more amplified when the recipient of care is in hospice. Individuals providing unpaid care for their loved ones may have difficulty grappling with the possibility of loss. Thus, it’s important for caregivers to know how to support themselves, and to know what resources are available should they feel the need to seek help. Below, we’ll dive deeper into the reasons family caregivers need help, and what they can do to alleviate the stress of their experience.
Caregiving Can Be Physically Draining
Caregiving involves providing physical support to adults who might lack mobility. They may then sustain injuries from activities that require strength. Some caregivers, for instance, may develop back problems from having to transfer seniors to their beds. Others may develop repetitive strain injury from repeating tasks that require physical strength, such as carrying groceries, cooking, cleaning the house, and doing other household chores. These conditions may worsen if they also have other job responsibilities outside of caregiving.
Caregivers can reduce their physical strain by making use of supportive tools and equipment. Bed lifts, for example, can help caregivers execute safe transfers. Moreover, ergonomic accessories can help ensure that caregivers maintain proper posture while performing repetitive tasks. This article shows that using ergonomic chairs can minimize back, neck, and shoulder pain. Ergonomic chairs can be helpful for caregivers who need to balance caregiving with their careers.
Caregiving Can Be Emotionally Draining
As established, caregiving without support can lead to a decline in mental health. In caregiving, compassion tends to be necessary. As such, many caregivers become vulnerable to “compassion fatigue,” and suffer from burnout when they think about complex emotional topics like death and illness. Caregivers need to find strategies to protect their emotional health in spite of the intimate nature of their job.
One you can study is emotional intelligence. You can look into our article about emotional intelligence in the hospice chaplain to learn more, but the gist is that you need to have a sense of self-awareness and self-regulation. Whenever you experience stressful emotions, try to sit back and assess them, what’s causing them, and what effect it brings to you and others. Then, you need to use your emotional knowledge to prevent yourself from falling into moods or impulsive behavior. Activities like journaling, meditation, and art may help provide an outlet for your emotions when they get too overwhelming.
Caregivers are Divided Between Many Responsibilities
Often, providing care won’t be the caregiver’s sole responsibility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 68% of adult caregivers were also full-time workers. Another 11% were part-time workers. Adult caregivers might be at the age where they also have to care for young children, and thus have to divide their time between work, caring for their elderly loved ones, and raising their children.
Caregivers who find themselves spread too thin should seek assistance from friends, family, or professionals. They can outsource housework from temporary cleaners, cooks, or meal delivery services. The US government also has a few resources caregivers can use to support themselves financially. Long-term Care Insurance, for example, can give family members payment for providing care.
Providing care can be difficult, especially when your responsibilities are divided. Fortunately, there are many resources caregivers can use to give themselves additional support.