Does it seem to you like more people in your life have become caregivers for a senior loved one in recent years? You’d be right. According to the Caregiver Action Network, more than 65 million adults provide care to an aging, disabled or chronically ill loved one in the United States. That translates to 29% of the country’s entire population.
While caring for a loved one can be rewarding, often the role is also demanding and stressful. It can lead to caregiver stress syndrome or another serious health problem.
How Common Is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
One in three family caregivers report stress levels higher than that of peers who aren’t caring for a loved one. Living with heightened stress for an extended period of time often results in a condition known as caregiver stress syndrome. It occurs when the duties associated with caring for a loved one feel overwhelming.
Some of the most common signs of caregiver stress syndrome include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling resentful or out of character
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Withdrawing socially
Over time, caregiver stress can turn into a serious case of burnout. That’s linked to a variety of concerns, ranging from depression to cardiac disease and diabetes.
Understanding Caregiver Burnout
Caregivers often juggle multiple duties. They keep loved ones on schedule with medications, provide transportation to doctor appointments, complete household chores and assist with activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. Staying so focused on a loved one’s needs, however, can come at the expense of the caregiver’s own health.
While most people know how important wellness is, it may seem like a luxury to a busy caregiver. Staying active, both physically and socially, and eating healthy foods take time. As does seeing the doctor regularly and staying up-to-date with routine health screenings. Caregivers may feel there just aren’t enough hours in the day to make wellness a priority. Failing to do so, however, can put you on track for burnout.
Sometimes the warning signs of caregiver burnout come on so gradually it’s hard to detect. That’s why it’s important to learn how to recognize the most common symptoms:
• Extreme mood swings: Feeling out of sorts or experiencing mood swings is a common sign of caregiver burnout. It’s vital to find healthy ways of dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that taking care of another person causes.
• Compromised immune system: Chronic stress can take a toll on the immune system. Contracting more colds and viruses or developing new allergies is the body’s way of trying to slow you down.
• Chronic exhaustion: Caregivers often don’t get enough sleep, especially those responsible for a person with dementia. But it can be more than sleep deprivation that makes them feel exhausted. A poor diet, not drinking enough water and not having time to exercise can also contribute. As can the difficult emotions that come from watching someone you love struggle with declining health.
• Feeling hopeless and helpless: The time commitment the role requires can be significant. An average family caregiver spends 24.4 hours a week helping their loved one over a period of 4 years. For some caregivers, it’s an even longer-term responsibility—24% provide care for more than 5 years, and 15% for 10 or more years. It can take a toll on mental health.
• Difficulty relaxing: Worrying about a loved one and whether you are doing a good job caregiving can be anxiety inducing. A caregiver may have difficulty relinquishing control for even a short time, even when trusted family members or friends offer to help out for a few hours. This inability to relax and trust others to help can be a sign of caregiver burnout. It’s okay to give yourself permission to ask for and accept help.
Why Caregivers Should Consider Respite Services
Caregivers often get so immersed in their caregiving duties that they may not even realize how high their stress levels have become. It’s important to take a step back and set some time aside for yourself on a regular basis. One way to do that is by taking advantage of short-term respite care.
These programs are designed to give weary caregivers a break. A family member can stay at an American Senior Communities location near their home for a few days or even a month. They’ll enjoy the same care, services and amenities as long-term residents do. An added bonus is that it allows an older adult to check out a community to see if it might be a good fit for a permanent move down the road.
Contact one of the more than 100 ASC locations across Indiana today to learn more about respite!