I was at a caregiver talk two weeks ago and the presenter said that in the situation when one spouse must care for the other, 20% of the time the caregiver dies first. One reason that percentage is high is because the caregiver burns out. In my following post I talk about the symptoms of caregiver stress and a few resources the caregiver can use when he or she is feeling overwhelmed.
Spouses and people with some form of dementia are typically the most difficult people to care for1. For spouses, the caregiver is emotionally invested in the situation, and he or she may be frustrated that things aren’t the way they use to be. People with dementia can be tough to care for too because they may become violent, have emotional moments when they become confused, or think of conspiracies involving others stealing from them. There is no doubt that caring for someone else is tough and that’s why professional caregivers deserve our respect.
Caregivers must learn to care for themselves as well as the person they are caring for. The first temper tantrum is manageable. It’s the second one in a day, after a bad night’s sleep, that wears on the soul. That happens and it’s why caregiver stress is real. Its symptoms often mimic those of depression: changing sleep patterns, gaining or losing weight, feeling tired, losing interest in other activities, and being irritated easily1. As a caregiver, it’s good to check-in with yourself and assess if any of these things are happening to you. If so, it may be time to consider the next part of this post.
If you have some extra spending dollars each month, hire a caregiver. Caregivers are typically trained professionals who can help ease the load from your shoulders. He or she also may be able to teach you how to care for your loved one when the caregiver is not there. That’ll make you more effective at your job, which will help to mitigate anything from going wrong and causing you to get frustrated. Additionally, the caregiver will free your time so that you can focus on you. As a result, you may spend your time sleeping, getting chores out of the way so that you can get to bed on time, socializing with friends, or maybe traveling. Taking care of yourself is important, because when you’re well-rested, the next temper tantrum will be much easier to manage. A caregiver can free up your time to rest. Think about hiring one if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
What if you don’t have extra spending dollars each month for a caregiver? There’s great news: you have high-quality options! County governments all over the country are funding respite care programs. Respite care is short-term care. If you’re an unpaid, live-in, primary caregiver for a senior you may apply to receive free home care—check with your county on the programs and terms. In Montgomery County, Maryland, you may qualify for a maximum of 140 hours a year in free home care through The Arc Montgomery County, a local chapter of a larger not-for-profit2. Given there are 168 hours in a week, these respite care programs aren’t long-term solutions; however, they may allow you to catch up on sleep and then clear your mind. Once you’ve recovered, you should join a support group, take a couple classes on caring for your loved one or shadow a caregiver, get organized, and then develop a plan. By taking these steps, you will have given yourself a chance to be proactive towards managing your loved one’s situation.
If you take the latter approach and still find your stress levels creeping up, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Family members, adult day care, and caregiving agencies may have the resources to relieve you just long enough to get your mind centered again. Even if you spend a little money to relieve yourself, it’s okay. Do it. The caregiver must remember that he or she has to keep himself or herself in a good mindset; otherwise, he or she runs the risk of becoming an ineffective caregiver. If you don’t know who to call or what resources to turn to, contact a senior advisor. He or she may be able to lower your caregiver costs, put you in contact with a local respite care program that is funded by the government, or introduce you to other services that can help relieve your workload.