According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, a family caregiver is “someone who is responsible for attending to the daily needs of another person. Family caregivers are responsible for the physical, emotional and often financial support of another person who is unable to care for him/herself due to illness, injury or disability. The care recipient may be a family member, life partner or friend.”
This article focuses on family caregivers who support someone who is 50 years old or older. Currently, an estimated 34.2 million American adults are serving as an unpaid caregiver to someone age 50 or older. On average, caregivers of someone 50+ spend 24.1 hours a week providing care, with 22 percent providing 41 or more hours of care each week.
As anyone who has or is caregiving knows, the first rule is to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. And this is the theme of this year’s Family Caregiver Awareness Month: Take Care to Give Care. But the reality is that caregiving, while rewarding, is demanding and at times exhausting and stressful. Take the test Caregiver Burnout: Is Your Flame About to Fizzle? to assess your level of caregiver stress.
Ignoring symptoms of caregiver stress can cause a decline in your health. Get acquainted with resources and services that can help you manage daily tasks and decisions, and help minimize stress and burnout. There are a number of organizations and agencies that can provide supports and programs to meet your needs.
- Get help—caregiving is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. Doing everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and other caregivers. One great place to start is the King County Caregiver Support Network. Here you can connect to specialist who can help you find just the right supports. Most of these services are free of charge. If you are overwhelmed by trying to manage it all yourself, perhaps balancing caregiving with a job and a family, an Aging Life Care expert (also known as a geriatric care manager) can also assist with care planning and support as well, usually at an hourly rate.
- Use relaxation techniques—they really work! There are several simple techniques that can help relieve stress. Find what works best for you: visualization, meditation, breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation. Click here for a great primer on evidence-based techniques for stress relief that work effectively, anytime, anywhere.
- Get moving—physical activity can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk, garden, dance, do jumping jacks. Even if you are out of shape, a little movement is found to go a long way in pumping up the feel-good endorphins that improve mood and contribute to your personal health.
- Make time for yourself—as a caregiver, it’s hard to find time for yourself, but staying connected to friends, family and activities that you love is important. Caregiver respite programs, companionship care, and other supports that free you to carve out time for yourself and to re-energize are available. Call Community Living Connections and talk with an advocate who can help you find the appropriate community resources.
- Become an educated caregiver—if you care for someone with dementia, new caregiving skills may be necessary as the disease progresses. The Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations offer programs, support groups, and workshops to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and other changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Each year in June, the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA), a division of the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services, sponsors the Giving Care, Taking Care Conference, a full-day training conference focused on the needs of family caregivers.
- Take care of yourself—staying healthy will help you be a better caregiver. Visit your doctor regularly. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Try to incorporate the tips above, and you’ll find yourself better able to manage caregiving responsibilities and decisions.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and confused about what to do. And caregiver burnout can sneak up on you over time if not in check. But you are not alone. Practice these simple strategies to help recognize, then manage the stress. And engage the support of any of the wonderful organizations and agencies referenced to help you and your family take the best next steps.
Tips adapted from Mayo Clinic’s caregiver resources.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice (geriatric care management) serving King, south Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties, and co-chairs the 2016 Elder Friendly Futures Conference.
November is Family Caregiver Awareness Month
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said it best: “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
If you’ve been a caregiver, you know it’s one of the most rewarding—and one of the most stressful and challenging—experiences you’ve ever had. If you currently care for a loved one, you are probably experiencing a great deal of stress.
Help is available! Unpaid caregivers of an adult age 18+ can contact Community Living Connections or any of the agencies in the King County Caregiver Support Network to schedule a phone interview. Caregiver specialists can help pinpoint sources of stress and recommend resources. Calls are free, professional, and confidential.