Primary caregivers are often at substantial risk of considerable health problems related to too much stress and taking on too many responsibilities on their own. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, child, or another person without help, you may be setting yourself up for significant health problems. However, with the right knowledge, self-care tactics and support to rely on, caregiving can be a rewarding experience. Here is what you need to know about caregiving to help protect you from inadvertently compromising your health in any way.
An Overwhelming Job with No Pay
In the United Kingdom caregiving is known as “the fastest growing unpaid profession” as it involves a variety of challenging daily tasks that need to be completed on behalf of the persona they are caring for. Some of the duties fulfilled by these unpaid caregivers include preparing meals, feeding, bathing, managing medication, and taking them to doctor’s visits, among others.
Highly Stress Related
Not surprisingly, the stress of taking care of the personal needs of another person can take a heavy toll on a caregiver, both physically and emotionally. While caring for others, caregivers become so busy that they often neglect taking care of their own physical and emotional needs. Although caregiving demands a great deal of physical work, the mental toll is often the greatest.
It is estimated that thirty to forty percent of caregivers who look after dementia patients suffer from extraordinarily high levels of stress and often require anti-anxiety, anti-depression or similar medications. If left untreated there is a high risk of severe depression which is why the mental, as well as physical health of a caregiver, has to be given high priority.
Coping Strategies for Caregivers
If you suspect that you may be suffering from stress related to caregiving, here are a few important tips that you can try to help you cope better:
1. Ask for Help
To avoid the overwhelming stress of being the sole caregiver, ask for help from siblings, a spouse, or children. Friends, family, and church members can all help with household chores, grocery shopping and visits to the doctor. Local volunteer and governmental agencies are all potential sources for support and to relieve you from your caregiving duties for a period of time in order to take care of your own personal needs.Certain support organisations and hospitals arrange for new caregivers to be coupled with more experienced caregivers or social workers who can help them enlist and coordinate assistance from others.
2. Healthy Venting
Let it all out by talking to family members, friends, a counsellor or clergy member about what you are experiencing while caring for another person, or join a local support group. Research has shown that individuals who have emotional outlets and the support of family or friends to rely on report fewer health problems and less stress than those without such outlets.
Physical activity is good for the body and mind. During exercise endorphins are released in the brain that are known to promote feelings of well-being. Just 30 minutes of physical activity a few times per week will not only relax your mind but also help you stay physically fit and avoid weight gain.
4. Enjoy a Hobby
Set aside time each week to take a break from caregiving. This may mean asking someone else to take over your caregiving duties for a couple of hours or even a few days a week to allow you to do something you enjoy like gardening, reading a book, watching a movie or getting away on a short vacation. If there is no-one you can rely on to step in for you, you can hire a respite care provider to assist you periodically.
5. Seek Professional Help
If you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks required to take care of a loved one, talk to your doctor or ask to be referred to an occupational therapist, a social worker, or a nurse who will be able to evaluate the needs of the patient in his or her own environment and recommend services such as safety renovations or in-home medical care. Certain insurance policies may cover the cost of an in-home assessment.
Short-term respite care programs can send a professional healthcare assistant to help care for your loved one on a temporary basis. They can also arrange for short-term stays in a nursing home or an assisted living facility, which are services provided by companies like Gabriel’s Angels.
Despite all the challenges involved, research has found that between a third and up to half of the caregivers do quite well emotionally. Some caregivers feel they are fulfilling an important duty towards a loved one or giving something back to someone who provided them with love and care when they needed it.