More and more family members are taking on the role of caregiver.
Each day, approximately 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65, and by 2030, the entire generation of baby boomers will be at least 65 years old, according the United States Census Bureau. That is 61 million people projected to be in the senior demographic, which is the most the country has seen yet.
The number of family members acting as unpaid caregivers has seen a steady increase from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. And while the aging population may be grateful for their families’ taking over their care, 23% of caregivers in America indicate that caregiving has had a negative impact on their own health.
Each caregiver may experience their own worries, fears and stressors, however there are some common challenges that all caregivers face. Learning more about potential health and emotional concerns may help you feel less alone in your caregiving journey and combat some of the challenges.
Common caregiver challenge: Physical health concerns
When caring for another person, you are managing both your own schedule and their schedule. Oftentimes, this means you prioritize their needs over your own. Try combatting this by:
- Utilizing natural and healthy energy boosters daily. This can mean healthy eating when possible, getting 7-8 hours of sleep daily (even if it is split up into naps) and exercising for a few minutes throughout the day. Fueling, resting and exerting your body can act as natural mood and energy boosters. Doing these things will make sure your physical health is being taken care of as best as it can.
- Getting additional help. Sometimes, you can’t do it all yourself simply because the strain on your body is too much. Ask other family members to assist when they can, even if it’s only for a few hours at a time. It is also important to know how your community can assist. A quick Google search might help you discover unknown resources. Your insurance provider might also have local resources available to assist with various tasks such as transportation to medical appointments. Local community and senior centers may also have support groups or senior events that your loved one can attend while you take a break.
- Using respite care. You can also look into respite care or someone to run your errands or clean your house so you have time to rest while your household tasks get completed. Respite care is covered under the Medicare hospice benefit.
Common caregiver challenge: Decision-fatigue
Decision fatigue is the idea that the more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop. And then, it can be really difficult to make additional decisions. Try combatting this by:
- Making small decisions ahead of time. Future you will be grateful when you make the decision the night before it’s needed. The decision can be as little as deciding what you or your family member will wear or eat for dinner the next day.
- Developing daily routines and lists. A daily routine can help bring structure to feelings of disorganization. If you have a list and routine process of when you assist with medications, bathing or eating, you can conserve your energy for the larger decisions where more brainpower is needed.
- Planning ahead. Oftentimes if you make big financial and health care decisions sooner rather than later, your stress levels can be greatly reduced. Look into your state’s resources to learn more about advance care planning. It may be able to help you set you and your loved one up for less decision-fatigue. If you have a home health care team, they will be able to assist in the process as well.
- Seeking professional help. If you’re not able to restore your energy, you may be experiencing caregiver burnout. This might make you more susceptible to anxiety, depression or other serious mental health concerns. Seeking help from a qualified professional might give you more strategies to help combat burnout and mental exhaustion.
Common caregiver challenge: Relational strain
Caregiving is a complicated relationship dynamic, especially if the loved one you are caring for is your parent or close family member. Try combatting this by:
- Using effective communication. Raising your voice, being impatient, avoiding uncomfortable conversations and letting out emotions on our loved ones are not effective communication behaviors. Refrain from these behaviors and be clear, concise and honest in everything you’d like to express to your loved one.
- Listening closely. Whether it’s your loved one feeling the strain and difficulty of the relationship shift or your partner feeling like you are deprioritizing your relationship with them, recognize that everyone may feel differently about a situation. The best thing to do is let someone express their emotions and lend a listening and understanding ear.
- Holding a care team meeting. If utilizing home health care, a social worker will be able to assist you in setting up a care team meeting or care conference. This is a space where all caregivers can meet together to learn more about the patient’s wants and needs. They can also discover how to implement effective communication strategies amongst each other.
Common caregiver challenge: Depression and isolation
- Setting realistic goals. If you are too ambitious with your expectations, you may feel discouraged when those expectations aren’t met. Try being realistic with yourself. Determine what it is you want to do versus what you can actually accomplish in your day-to-day caregiving duties.
- Taking care of your mind and body. Most doctors will recommend natural interventions for depression before prescribing medication. Eating healthy, setting aside at least 15 minutes for physical exercise and meditating are three things to try to lessen the symptoms of depression.
- Connecting with others. Whether that’s phoning a dear friend or joining a support group for caregivers, having at least one other person you can rely on to share your thoughts and worries might help decrease your negative feelings. Support groups may be available that are related to specific diagnoses such as dementia or cancer. There may even be respite volunteers in the group that can stay with your loved one while you attend the meeting.
- Seeking professional help. If you feel unable to take steps to help yourself, it might be time to consider professional help. If you’re unsure where to find a qualified professional, you can always visit your primary care physician to talk about mental health care.
Additional resources to help
If you still feel like you need more support, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following online caregiving support groups:
- Family Alliance on Caregiving—The caregiver-online support group is an unmoderated group for families, partners and other caregivers of adults with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, brain injury and other chronic debilitating health conditions. The group offers a safe place to discuss the stresses, challenges and rewards of providing care for another.
- Caring.com Resource Center—Offers key resources to help you better navigate caregiving and access to online support groups, such as the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group.
At Enhabit our patients are our number one priority. From providing the latest medical practices to building deep personal connections, we’re focused on upholding every patient’s dignity, humanity and sense of control on their health care journey.
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