Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Being a Caregiver is a Dangerous Job!

Question: When do loved ones go to a Nursing Home?
Answer: When the Caregiver gives out.

Several reasons are given. “We ran out of money to care for her.” “The house isn’t equipped for his needs.” “I can’t lift her anymore.” And the most frightening: "I just can't do it anymore". Nearly every reason that is given points back to the Caregiver’s inability to continue to perform for their family member.

It is a dangerous time for a Caregiver, and the family needs to be aware of the signs of Caregiver stress. You can probably come up with more than eight, but these should help you to indentify it when a problem comes up.

The eight signs of Caregiver stress according to the Wisconsin State Journal are:
Social withdrawal
Anxiety, depression
Exhaustion, sleeplessness
Irritability, moodiness
Inability to concentrate
Health problems
Denial of elder’s disease

It’s no wonder that physical and emotional symptoms arise. One client of mine once admitted that caring for her parents was “the toughest job I have ever had”. And her parents were both mentally fit, in pretty good physical shape, living in a nearby Assisted Living Center, and both had Long Term Care Insurance! Imagine the dangers for someone in a less ideal situation.

Prevention Magazine in its August, 2007 issue, came up with some surprising figures and some good advice, too.

Problem: Studies found that Caregivers have immune systems that are 15% weaker than the rest of us. Long term stress suppresses cells’ abilities to fight such enemies as viruses and tumors.
Solution: Make time to exercise sometime each day and be sure to take flu shots and the like. Care for yourself first, even if you feel guilty about. Remember, you are staying fit to help your loved one.

Problem: Women caring for a spouse for 9 hours a day have almost twice the risk of heart disease. Mental strain is the culprit. Stress increases adrenaline and other hormones, raising blood sugar, contributing to hypertension and plaque buildup.
Solution: The usual for Americans: a low fat diet with lots of potassium. And medication for cholesterol, etc.

Problem: You are so focused on Caregiving that you do not see your own doctor enough. Seventy-five percent of reported Caregivers say their health has suffered and they haven’t seen their physician as they should.
Solution: Like every other problem listed. Take time for yourself. See the doctor. Consider it a one hour respite every so often.

Problem: Consider all the other signs of stress listed above as one problem.
They relate to your mental health.
Solution: This where your support group needs to step in. While you should keep track of your physical and mental condition, it’s far easier for your loved ones to be aware of the dangers and monitor your health accordingly.

Caregivers may have the toughest job of all. But, as my client, above, found out with her parents, we’re not looking to replace Caregivers. Just help do their job better, longer, and make it a bit easier.

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