Providing ongoing care and support to an elder can evoke mixed emotions ranging from a sense of accomplishment and pride to guilt, anger and frustration. The 2012 American Time Use Survey reveals that nearly one quarter of those between the ages of 45-64 identify themselves as elder care providers. Caregiving can be stressful and difficult: 20% of caregivers are providing daily care and 24% provide care several times a week. In 85% of these cases the caregiver and the elder live separately.
If you are one of those caregivers, too much stress can be damaging to both you and the person for whom you are caring. The first step in managing caregiver stress is to recognize its many signs so you can mobilize an appropriate response:
– Anger at the elder or others
– Social withdrawal from friends and activities
– Anxiety about facing another day
– Depression and hopelessness
– Irritability and moodiness
– Difficulty concentrating
If you are experiencing several of these symptoms on a regular basis consider consulting your physician and involving professional elder care counselors (available 24/7 through your EAP).
6 Ways To Reduce Caregiver Stress
1. Know what resources are available. Become familiar with resources available in your community. Adult day care, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meals-on-wheels are just some of the services that can help. Elder care counselors available through your EAP can help you in locating resources
2. Get help. Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. The support of family, friends and community resources can make an enormous difference in your quality of life. If assistance is not offered, ask for it. If you have difficulty asking for assistance, have someone close to you act as your advocate. Remember that your EAP elder care counselors are available to:
-Help you think through your elder care concerns (even when you aren’t sure what questions to ask)
-Identify the services that might help
-Do the research needed to get accurate, up-to-date information on the service
-Develop a detailed report with referral information designed to meet your particular needs and deliver this report to you within 12 business hours
3. Take care of yourself. Caregivers frequently neglect their own needs as they focus on those for whom they care. Make sure you get the rest you need. Use respite services to take time off and lift your spirits with enjoyable activities.
4. Do legal and financial planning. Consult an attorney and discuss issues related to durable power of attorney, living wills and trusts, future medical care, housing and other key considerations. Planning is much more effective than worrying and much better for your health. If possible and appropriate, involve the elder and other family members in the planning process.
5. Give yourself credit. Accept the fact that you may occasionally lose patience and, at times, not be able to provide care in the way you would prefer. If you are there, and you are making a difference, and you are doing the best you can in a difficult situation, that is something to be proud of. Perfection is not an option so don’t waste time or energy trying to achieve an impossible standard.
6. Take a day off. Sometimes the best stress reliever is time off. Think about it. What would you do if you had a whole day off from care giving: 24 luxurious hours of not having to think about the stresses that come with caring for someone who is aging. Start by making a list of all the care giving tasks you typically accomplish in a day. Next to each item write the name of a family member or friend who can fill in for you. If you don’t have someone to help out there are professionals who can step in. You can contact a home health agency and make arrangements for a nurse, aide or companion to help. (It is beneficial to get familiar with these resources in a non-crisis mode when you can be more relaxed about choosing the services you are comfortable with). While planning a day off can seem like just one more item on your never-ending “to do” list, the benefits of caring for yourself will be long lasting.