Reminder to the caregiver: you are not alone

Published 5:56 pm Thursday, August 26, 2021

With the advances in health care, people are living longer with chronic health conditions. Furthermore, the impact of shorter hospital stays require that people are often living at home with chronic conditions that require intensive and consistent care. According to the Mayo Clinic, about one in three adults in this country provides care to other adults in the home. A caregiver may provide help to an ill spouse or partner, disabled child, or an aging relative.

Taking care of a loved one is valued and is often rewarding. Caregivers are special people who make sacrifices to take care of a loved one in the privacy and comfort of home. Many caregivers “would not have it any other way” than for them to personally care for one in need.

  However, caregiving can be stressful. According to Seniorlink.com, caregiver role strain occurs when a caregiver feels overwhelmed and is unable to perform his or her role satisfactorily. The caregiver may experience stress and anxiety when trying to meet the many physical and emotional demands of meeting the healthcare needs of a loved one.

Many situations may put individuals at risk of caregiver role strain. The financial burden of taking care of a loved one, the sudden increase of responsibility for his or her wellbeing, living with him or her, social isolation, having depression, and higher number of hours spent caregiving all contribute to role strain. The caregiver may be at risk because he or she lacks coping and problem-solving skills. When not having a choice to care for a loved one, the caregiver may experience stress.

The Mayo Clinic and Seniorlink.com identified signs and symptoms of caregiver role strain. Fatigue, depression, and stress are common. Felling overwhelmed or being constantly worried, sleep disturbances, gaining or losing weight, a change in appetite, being easily irritated or angered, and feeling sad may be experienced. The caregiver may have frequent headaches, body pain, or other physical problems. Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications, are signs as well. The caregiver may lose interest in activities that were once pleasurable.

Strategies have been identified to prevent and manage the strain of taking care of a loved one. According to the Mayo Clinic, a caregiver should accept help from others for tasks such as running errands, picking up groceries, or cooking meals. Others may be able to relieve the caregiver for periods of time so that the caregiver has time away from the work and get some rest. This is known as respite care. Other strategies to prevent role strain include focusing on what one is able to provide, setting realistic goals, getting connected to local community resources for caregivers, and seeking social support from family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. The caregiver should set health goals by balancing rest and exercise while eating a healthy diet and getting recommended vaccinations and screenings. An important strategy is to plan to sleep and eat when the loved one sleeps and eats. Keeping medical appointments and taking regular medications are essential to the health of those who may be experiencing caregiver role strain. Caregivers who work outside the home are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act that provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Staying in touch with one’s spirituality is important. Prayer and faith can strengthen the caregiver as well as the person cared for.

Seniorlink.com identified strategies for caregivers. The caregiver should be in touch with his or her feelings and stay aware of his or her behavior, such as when losing his or her patience or becoming angry. Keeping a schedule and staying organized can help manage the many responsibilities of care giving. However, prioritizing tasks and remaining flexible are important. The caregiver should keep the lines of communication open with his or her loved one to discuss feelings and whether goals are being met.

Caregivers must know that help is available. Careful planning and healthy lifestyle choices are essential to prevent and manage caregiver role strain. Social connections among family, friends, colleagues, and community resources can lessen the stresses of caring for loved ones. We must stay in touch with the caregivers we know and offer respite and prayer for them as well as their loved ones in need.

Here is a reminder to caregivers: You are not alone.

Sarah M. Ware, Ph.D., RN, CNE, is a retired nurse educator and Natchez resident