by Kathy Bosworth
More than one
quarter of the adult population (26.6%) has provided care for a chronically ill,
disabled or aged family member or friend during the past year. Based on current
data, that translates into more than 50 million people! Sixty one percent of
“intense” caregivers (those providing at least 21 hours of care a week) have
suffered from depression. Heavy-duty caregivers, especially spousal caregivers,
do not get consistent help from other family members. One study has shown that
as many as three fourths of these caregivers are “going it alone”. Is it any
surprise that caregiver stress or burnout is becoming a critical issue?
stress is not a new concept. None of us have immunity from the challenges of
getting through life with the least amount of stress. Some people drink, over
eat, smoke, bite their nails, yell at the cat, or retreat inside themselves when
the going gets too tough. I’m sure you have your own ways of protecting yourself
from the ravages of stress. I have often thought my cat has the right idea when
stress enters her life. After one loud meow and an angry swish of her tail, she
retreats to another room to take a nice long two-hour snooze. Bamm! The stress
is gone. Unfortunately, people do not have the same luxury.
Are you caught
in the web of stress while being a caregiver? In the book, "Living with Stroke,"
there is an interesting section on stroke stress analysis. People list nine
sentences that sum up all the different ways that stress exhibits itself in
families of stroke survivors. Do any of these ring a bell with you?
“Ohmigod, I can’t handle this.”
What if he needs me in the middle of the night and I can’t hear him?”
- Denial that
leads to over-optimism: “Oh, he’ll be fine. He just needs to come home.”
Irritability and Anger: “It’s all the rehabilitation team’s fault.”
Frustration: “I can’t stand one more thing going wrong!”
“I’m utterly, completely exhausted from the experience.”
Hopelessness and helplessness: “What’s the use? Nothing’s going to change.”
- Guilt: “How
can I be so angry at him? It’s not fair.”
Ambivalence: “I don’t know how I feel anymore. I can’t make a decision about
If you are a
caregiver, I’m sure you find yourself nodding your head at more than a few of
these stress indicators. I often say that caregiving is not something that
people plan on or sign up for. It is a situation sort of plops itself in your
lap totally unexpected. Caregivers are usually overwhelmed, untrained, and
uneducated in the beginning. With time comes a sense of control that can help
you through. Being out of control in any situation can knock a person off
balance. Don’t be too hard on yourself as you muddle through this. You are a
rookie now, but you are getting some heavy on the job training.
Here are some
tips that I have found to be helpful in getting your life in balance again.
well-meaning people offer to help, accept their help. Be specific in things
you could use help with. Now is not the time to show the world how strong you
are. You will only burn out quicker without help.
- Watch out
for signs of depression. Get professional help if you need to.
yourself about your loved one’s condition. Information is empowering!
- Trust your
gut feelings. I’m a firm believer in our innate instincts. If something sounds
out of whack to you, keep asking questions until you are satisfied that the
best care is being administered.
- Find other
caregivers to connect with. There are many caregiver websites and support
groups. If there are none in your area, start your own. Believe me, you need
somebody to talk to that understands what you are going through.
- Be kind to
yourself. Even if you only take a ten-minute walk around the block to
alleviate some stress, DO IT. A caregiver with a lower stress level makes a
much better caregiver. Getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating balanced
meals reduces stress.
- If you are
caring for a parent and have siblings, be vocal about what they can do to
help. Some people are not comfortable with the day-to-day care but they might
be willing to grocery shop for you, pick up meds, or do a doctor’s run or two.
Don’t be a martyr. Your emotional health cannot take it. Face it and get on
- Take charge
of your life and continue to do things that you find relaxing or pleasurable.
If a loved one’s disability always takes center stage instead of your needs,
you will become a resentful caregiver. Not good for anyone.
- Write down
things to keep your head uncluttered. Having ongoing lists of medications your
loved one is taking will not only alleviate the stress of trying to remember
what and when, but it is also a valuable tool when visiting the doctor. It’s
all written out and accessible. Doctor’s are often rushed and cannot wait
around while you try to remember which meds are causing what side effects,
etc. Keep it as simple and easy on yourself in ways that you can.
- Keep your
sense of humor. It’s the most important tool you have and it’s free. Humor can
be found in the most surprising places, even hospitals and nursing homes.
Laughter is good for the soul.
- Know your
limitations! Don’t let guilt get in the way of making the best decision for
your family member and yourself. Not everyone can be a caregiver no matter how
good their intentions might be. If you cannot be a caregiver due to an
emotional, physical, financial or locational burden, you do have choices. You
cannot help another if you yourself need help. The medical needs might warrant
the need for assisted living or long term care. If you must find alternative
living arrangements, make sure they are ones you can live with and serve the
best interest of your loved one! Stay involved and vigilant that the care
a huge responsibility. Keeping the caregiver healthy; physically, mentally, and
emotionally is vital. Try to find the right balance in your life that allows you
to care for your loved one while caring for yourself.
websites for caregivers:
Family Caregivers Association:
Alliance for Caregiving:
Copyright © October 2004
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon,
All rights reserved.