Note on Caregiver stress : How to cope

A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. However, family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don’t self-identify as a “caregiver.” Recognizing this role can help caregivers receive the support they need.

 Caregiving is rewarding but stressful
Caregiving can have many rewards. For most caregivers, being there when a loved one needs you is a core value and something you wish to provide.

But a shift in roles and emotions is almost certain. It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common.

People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:

  • Being female
  • Having fewer years of formal education
  • Living with the person you are caring for
  • Social isolation
  • Having depression
  • Financial difficulties
  • Higher number of hours spent caregiving
  • Lack of coping skills and difficulty solving problems
  • Lack of choice in being a caregiver

Signs of caregiver stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Strategies for dealing with caregiver stress

The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

To help manage caregiver stress:
  • Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
  • Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
  • Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
  • Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery or housekeeping may be available.
  • Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
  • Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
  • Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.Many caregivers have issues with sleeping. Not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
  • See your doctor. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.

Signs of health problems in Aging parents

As your parents get older, how can you be sure they’re taking care of themselves and staying healthy? . Look out for thes signs when you are with them.

1. Are your parents able to take care of themselves?

Pay attention to your parents’ appearance. Failure to keep up with daily routines — such as bathing and toothbrushing — could indicate dementia, depression or physical impairments.

Also pay attention to your parents’ home. Are the lights working? Is the heat on? Is the yard overgrown?

Any changes in the way your parents do things around the house could provide clues to their health. For example, scorched pots could mean your parents are forgetting about food cooking on the stove. Neglected housework could be a sign of depression, dementia or other concerns.

2. Are your parents experiencing memory loss?

Everyone forgets things from time to time. Modest memory problems are a fairly common part of aging, and sometimes medication side effects or underlying conditions contribute to memory loss.

There’s a difference, though, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss that makes it hard to do everyday things such as driving and shopping. Signs of this type of memory loss might include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Not being able to follow instructions
  • Becoming confused about time, people and places

3. Are your parents safe in their home?

 Take a look around your parents’ home, keeping an eye out for any red flags.

Do your parents have difficulty navigating a narrow stairway? Has either parent fallen recently? Are they able to read directions on medication containers? When asked, can your parents explain how they set up or take their medications?

4. Have your parents lost weight?

 Losing weight without trying could be a sign that something’s wrong. Weight loss could be related to many factors, including:
  • Difficulty cooking. Your parents might be having difficulty finding the energy to cook, grasping the necessary tools, or reading labels or directions on food products.
  • Loss of taste or smell. Your parents might not be interested in eating if food doesn’t taste or smell as good as it used to.
  • Social issues. Your parents might have difficulty shopping or have financial concerns that limit buying groceries.
  • Underlying conditions. Sometimes weight loss indicates a serious underlying condition, such as malnutrition, dementia, depression or cancer.

5. Are your parents in good spirits?

Note your parents’ moods and ask how they’re feeling. A drastically different mood or outlook could be a sign of depression or other health concerns.

6. Are your parents still social?

Talk to your parents about their activities. Are they connecting with friends? Have they maintained interest in hobbies and other daily activities? Are they involved in organizations, clubs or faith-based communities?

If a parent gives up on being with others, it could be a sign of a problem.

7. Are your parents able to get around?

Pay attention to how your parents are walking. Are they reluctant or unable to walk usual distances? Have they fallen recently? Would either parent benefit from a cane or walker?

Issues such as muscle weakness and joint pain can make it difficult to move around as well. If your parents are unsteady on their feet, they might be at risk of falling — a major cause of disability among older adults.

Taking action

 There are many steps you can take to ensure your parents’ health and well-being, even if you don’t live nearby. Try to:
  • Share your concerns. Talk to your parents. Your concern might motivate them to see a doctor or make other changes. Consider including other people who care about your parents in the conversation, such as close friends.
  • Encourage regular medical checkups. If you’re worried about a parent’s weight loss, depressed mood, memory loss, or other signs and symptoms, encourage your parent to schedule a doctor’s visit. You might offer to schedule the visit or to accompany your parent to the doctor — or to find someone else to attend the visit. Ask about follow-up visits as well.
  • Address safety issues. Point out any potential safety issues to your parents — then make a plan to address the problems. For example, a higher toilet seat or handrails in the bathroom might help prevent falls. If your parents are no longer able to drive safely, suggest other transportation options — such as taking the bus, using a car or van service or hiring a driver.
  • Consider home care services. You could hire someone to clean the house and run errands. A home health care aide could help with daily activities, such as bathing, and Meals on Wheels or other community services might prepare food. If remaining at home is too challenging, you might suggest moving to an assisted living facility.
  • Contact the doctor for guidance. If your parents dismiss your concerns, consider contacting the doctor directly. Your insights can help the doctor understand what to look for during upcoming visits. Keep in mind that the doctor might need to verify that he or she has permission to speak with you about your parents’ care, which might include a signed form or waiver from your parents.

Note on Caring for aging parents

Concerned about your aging parents’ health? 

Adult children often serve as caregivers for aging parents. Here is a note that may help you in this regard.

Caregivers must monitor the health and independence of their aging parents. Start by evaluating the situation from a caregiver’s perspective. Are your parents safe in their home? How well are your parents taking care of themselves? How are your parents’ spirits? Are your parents having difficulty getting around? Talk with your parents if you have any concerns about their health or safety.

Caregivers must also be prepared for an emergency. Compile a list of your parents’ doctors, allergies, medications, surgeries, insurance information and other important details. Discuss long-term care, living wills and advance directives.

Caregivers face many challenges. If necessary, seek help from other family members or local social service agencies.

Giving care to Elderly with Alzheimer’s

The physical and emotional demands facing an Alzheimer’s caregiver are daunting. Being an Alzheimer’s caregiver might take more strength and patience than you ever imagined. Whether you’ve been an Alzheimer’s caregiver for years or you’re just learning to cope with the disease, look to friends, family and community resources for support.

As you care for your loved one, consider practical strategies for communicating with your loved one and keeping him or her safe. At the same time, understand that the challenges for an Alzheimer’s caregiver multiply as the end of life approaches. Consider ways to prepare for the tough choices ahead.

As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, it’s also important to remember your own needs. Ask for help when you need it, and pay attention to warning signs of caregiver stress.