For the last few months, I have joined millions of other Americans as a family caregiver. It's funny that many people don't even think of themselves as caregivers, probably because it's not something you sign up for or enroll in; it just happens, sometimes suddenly and sometimes gradually. Someone you know gets sick or injured and can no longer do certain tasks for themselves. Caregiving can be as simple as getting groceries from the market or taking someone to their doctor appointment or more complex like helping with bathing, dressing and managing medications. You may think,"I'm just helping out," and you are, but you are also a caregiver.
According to AARP, there were roughly 42 million unpaid caregivers in the United States in 2009, providing an estimated $450 billion worth of unpaid care to adult and aging relatives and friends. A popular misconception is that family caregivers are paid health professionals, providing full-time care to someone in need of daily help, when in reality, most caregivers are also working and managing their own families at the same time. In fact, many caregivers are women of the "sandwich" generation, who care for their kids and their aging parents at the same time.
Caregiving is a major commitment and can be complex and highly stressful work. However, because many family caregivers think they are just doing their duty as a daughter or son, a wife or husband or a friend helping out someone they love, they do not identify themselves as caregivers and as a result feel isolated. They do not recognize there are resources to help them.
Mary Ann Spanos
Chautauqua County Office for the Aging has a Caregiver Support program to help link caregivers with local resources to help them with their caregiving duties. Friendly visiting, shopping assistance, telephone reassurance, respite care and linkages to support groups are all part of our local program. In addition to local assistance, there are many online resources for caregivers.
I recommend checking out AARP's Caregiving Resource Center (aarp.org), NY State Caregiving and Respite Coalition (nyscrc.org), and Agingcare.com, which is specific for people caring for elderly parents. In addition to information, many of these sites allow you to connect with other caregivers or ask questions from experts in the field.
No matter what you are doing as a caregiver, it is extremely important that you take care of yourself. If you get sick or burned out, you will not be able to help anyone. Below is an excerpt from Agingcare.com on the signs of caregiver burnout. Don't wait until you are in crisis to ask for help. Remember OFA and our NY Connects Helpline are here for you at 753-4582, 363-4582 or 661-7582.
SIX SIGNS OF
The tasks of caring for an elderly loved one can add up quickly, leaving you exhausted and stressed out. Chances are, if you've been a caregiver for more than a few weeks you've experienced a certain degree of caregiver burnout.
Keep your eyes peeled for these common signs of burnout. If you find yourself thinking or saying these things, you may want to seek help from your doctor and consider finding some respite care:
(1) "I just don't feel like talking to or seeing anyone today-even my friends and family." If you discover that you consistently don't want to interact with people, especially close family and friends, it could be a sign that caring for your elderly loved one is becoming too draining.
(2) "I used to really enjoy reading mystery novels, but for some reason, even a thrilling "Whodunit" doesn't seem to hold my interest anymore." If your favorite hobbies and pastimes aren't interesting to you anymore, it may indicate that you need a break from being a caregiver.
(3) "Sometimes taking care of mom is too much-I feel like I want to end it all." Thoughts of suicide or hurting your elderly loved one are dangerous warning signs of extreme burnout and probable depression. You should immediately seek help from a mental health professional if you find yourself having violent thoughts.
(4) "I've been eating weirdly lately." Abnormal eating patterns, whether it's eating too much or not enough might be an indication of extreme stress.
(5) "I've been sleeping weirdly lately." If you can't seem to fall asleep at night, or have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you may be feeling the effects of too much caregiving responsibility.
(6) "It's been several weeks, and I can't seem to shake this cold." Stress can wreak havoc with your immune system. Illnesses that last longer than they should are a sign of reduced immune system functioning that could be due to your caregiving.