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challenges-of-the-caregiverCaregiving can start abruptly with the onset of a serious health  condition or it might start with the occurrence of an unexpected  heart attack or stroke. The need for care can also begin when a  person experiences slight limitations associated with the normal  aging process. In any case, caregivers face a number of  challenges. These include learning basic health care skills, coping with physical, emotional, and financial stress; understanding legal options; assessing the service system; and most importantly, I  think, learning how to balance conflicting demands while dealing with potentially stressful family dynamics.

Some caregivers handle these challenges better than others. Caregiving responsibilities can lead to feelings of love, generosity, and a strengthening of family ties. Some caregivers are thankful for the opportunity to provide care and to share in the journey of the care receiver’s life. For others these responsibilities can be overwhelming and lead to isolation, physical illness, financial devastation and loss of employment. In severe cases, caregiver exhaustion can lead to abuse or financial exploitation of the care receiver. Caregiving, simply stated, is one person giving care to another.

I love the following saying “You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person”. Isn’t that so true, especially when we talk about caregiving?

Caregiving  is a process that often involves a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy. It is often emotionally charged and demanding. Many seniors will, at some point in their later years, be both caregivers and care receivers and it is important to understand the caregiving process. Caregiving is a global issue, as countries  around the world are facing aging populations. Today, in America  approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 every day which will greatly affect the aging population for us in the years  to come. For your information, caregiving provided outside of  facilities is the backbone of the long-term care system. The value  of unpaid care for adults is estimated to be more than $250 billion dollars annually. In addition to its economic impact as we  earlier stated, caregiving exacts a toll on caregivers, who often  suffer compromised health, personal financial strain and intense  emotional stress.

Profiles of Caregivers and the Care Receivers & Length of Time Care is Received.

 A few facts about who provides care.

  •  About 45 million Americans or more than 21% of the adult population act as caregivers.
  • An estimated 17%, or 18 million households in the United States, contain at least one caregiver who provides care to someone age 50 or older.
  • 83% of caregivers are related to their care recipients; with the remaining 17% coming from outside the family.
  • A typical caregiver is female and is approximately 46 years old, has some college experience, and spends an average of 20 hours or more per week providing care to someone age 50 or older. However, one out of every three caregivers in America or about 14.5 million caregivers are male. Although male caregivers are fewer in number, they are just as dedicated, diligent and determined to help their loved one or friend live the best life he or she possibly can. (talk about meeting 2 brothers involved in their Mother’s care)

Who Receives Care?

  • 65% of care recipients are female/35% are male.
  • 65% of caregivers say other unpaid caregivers assist them in their role – this would include other family members and friends. 46% said they also employ others to assist them in
  • providing care.
  • More that half of care recipients live in their own homes.

 Length of Care Provided

  • The average duration of caregiving is 4.3 years.
  • About 3 in 10 caregivers have been providing care for 5 or more years. Another 3 in 10 have been providing care for up to 4 years.
  • About 1 in 4 caregivers or 24% say the person they care for lives in the same household with them.

 Stress Management

 A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranging from 20g to 500g.

 The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it.”

“If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem”.
“If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm”.
“If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.

“In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes. The lecturer continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on. As with the glass of water you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden”.

“So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Relax; pick them up after you’ve rested. Life is short. Enjoy it!”

Author Unknown

(I don’t know who wrote this but I think you will agree it gives us something to think about when we talk about stress management)

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

  • Disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Altered eating patterns.
  • Increased sugar consumption or use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Increased smoking or strong desire to start again.
  • Frequent headaches or sudden onset of back pain.
  • Increased reliance on over-the-counter pain remedies or prescribed drugs.
  • Irritability.
  • High levels of fear or anxiety.
  • Impatience.
  • The inability to handle one or more problems or crisis.
  • Accident prone.
  • Overreacting to criticism.
  • Overreacting with anger toward a spouse, child or older care recipient.
  • Alienation.
  • Feeling emotional withdrawal.
  • Playing the “blame” game
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Thinking of disappearing or running away.
  • Not being able to laugh or feel joy.
  • Withdrawing from activities and the lives of others.
  • Feeling hopeless most of the time.
  • Loss of compassion.
  • Resenting the care recipient and/or the situation.
  • Neglecting or mistreating the care recipient.
  • Frequently feeling totally alone even though friends and family are present.
  • Wishing simply “to have the whole thing over with”.
  • Playing the “if only” games; saying over and over “If only this would happen; or “If only this hadn’t happened”.

 Top 10 Ways to Manage Your Time and Your Stress

10. Get rid of unnecessary stuff “chunk the junk”
9. Be realistic
8. Prioritize
7. Decide
6. Rid yourself of as many interruptions as possible
5. Ask for help
4. Make lists and do what is written on them
3. Plan “If you don’t know where you are going you will end up somewhere else”
2. KISS-keep it simple and sane
1. Take one day at a time and value it as if it were your last

Caregiver Stress Management Tips

(Provided by the Family Caregiver Education program of Area agencies on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers)

  • Go for a walk.
  • Sign up for an exercise, yoga, or Tai Chi class.
  • Do some deep breathing throughout the day.
  • What three things are you grateful for? Write it down and put it somewhere you will see it every day. Add to it.
  • Say “no” sometimes and don’t explain why.
  • Do nothing for a few minutes and not feel guilty.
  • Go to bed early.
  • Take a mental health “day off’ from work.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Turn OFF the TV
  • Find something good in EVERYone you meet.
  • Make a list of your good traits.
  • Have a good cry.
  • Relax with a good book and/or soothing music.
  • Rent a funny movie.
  • Play your favorite music and dance to it by yourself.
  • Write a special diary about your accomplishments.
  • Work on your favorite puzzle.
  • Work a crossword puzzle.
  • Try “words with Friends” or some other internet game on your computer, smart phone or electronic tablet.
  • Browse in a book or record store as long as you want.
  • Play the piano or other instrument.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Take a sauna.
  • Treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure.
  • Treat yourself to a massage or ask for it as a gift.
  • De-clutter a room.
  • Call a good friend.
  • Watch the sunrise or the sunset.
  • Go out to a restaurant by yourself.
  • Take a scenic drive.
  • Fix a special dinner just for yourself and eat by candlelight.
  • Buy new clothes you can afford.
  • Buy yourself a stuffed animal.
  • Go to a pet store and play with the animals.
  • Visit a zoo.
  • Go window shopping.
  • Buy yourself something special that you can afford.
  • Go see a good film or stage production.
  • Write a letter to an old friend.
  • Bake or cook something special.
  • Go to a concert.
  • Hug a child.
  • Tell someone you appreciate them.
  • Have breakfast in bed
  • Take a pottery class.
  • Recycle your newspapers and cans.
  • Donate blood.
  • Look at clouds.
  • Open a can of coffee.
  • Listen to the rain.
  • Make herbal tea.
  • Sit by a fire and read.
  • Take a nap.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Daydream.
  • Doodle.
  • Read a magazine.
  • Bake bread.
  • Tell someone you love him or her.
  • Go into a hot tub or Jacuzzi.
  • Go to a museum.
  • Look out a window.