Here’s a job listing few people would get excited about: 20-100+ hours a week with no pay. Applicant must put the needs of others above their own needs, have physical strength for heavy lifting, a strong stomach to handle bodily fluids, limited or no desire to get outside, an upbeat attitude, ability to thrive with limited sleep, excellent organizational skills, and a willingness to put their own lives aside for months or even years. Does this sound like a job you’d love to apply for? No! However, millions take this job on, often with little notice, as they become family caregivers. Taking care of a sick or disabled loved one is a difficult and time-consuming task that millions of Americans manage every day. It is very stressful, often isolating and overwhelming, and can go on for years. How can you handle the stress of caregiving?
Caregivers don’t feel qualified for the role.
More than 50% of caregivers who responded to the Genworth Beyond Dollars Study of 2018 say they don’t feel qualified for the role of caregiver. They feel like they don’t have a firm foundation for decision making and face a “sea of confusion” when caring for aging loved ones.
What specifically stresses caregivers?
Taking care of a loved one dealing with an illness or injury is overwhelming and stressful. In a 2009 AARP study caregivers reported concern about:
- Deteriorating health of the person they assist because he/she did not get the health care attention needed.
- Poor communication among clinicians, a lack of clinician visits after hospital stays, unnecessary tests, and receiving conflicting information.
- The “ball being dropped” after discharge – leaving them feeling alone after leaving the hospital.
- Patients who do not understand the medical instructions/advice.
- Finding resources, such as medical equipment and services.
- Arranging for assistance in and around the home (paid and unpaid).
- Communication with doctors and other health professionals.
- Uncertain expectations for their friend/relative’s recovery/prognosis.
- Managing the patient’s expectations.
- Not enough time for competing demands (job, self, kids, etc.).
- Stress/emotional strain/guilt.
Caregiving can take a financial toll.
Finances are a concern for many caregivers. Not only are caregivers spending their own money on their loved one’s care, many are also earning less as they cut back on work hours and miss career opportunities in order to accommodate their caregiving duties.
Results of the 2018 Genworth Beyond Dollars Study show widespread concern regarding finances. Respondents report:
- 63% paid for care out of their own savings/retirement funds.
- 48% reduced their quality of living.
- 42% reduced contributions to their own savings.
- 46% worked fewer hours.
- 30% missed career opportunities.
- 20% missed 10 or more hours of work per week.
Caregiving impacts mental and physical health of caregivers.
According to the 2018 Genworth Beyond Dollars Study, caregivers reported that caregiving caused negative health and emotional impacts:
- 41% reported depression, mood swings and resentment.
- 53% reported a negative impact on their stress level.
- 46% reported a negative impacted their health and wellbeing.
- 50% reported having less time for their spouse/partner, children and themselves.
How can you reduce your stress related to caregiving?
Don’t go it alone!
- Get as much help as possible – both paid and unpaid. Don’t try to do this by yourself!
- Don’t isolate yourself which can be depressing. Instead, reach out to your friends and family via email or phone. Ask friends to stop by for a visit. Reach out to your Church or Temple to see if they have a program for visiting ill members.
- Consider getting help with “non-caregiving” tasks to ease your daily burden, such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, errands, childcare, etc.
- Join a support group, either in person or virtually, to connect with other caregivers in the same situation. As the saying goes – misery loves company. You’ll likely find that reaching out to people in the same boat is comforting and you may even learn some tips for patient care and stress reduction.
It’s vital to practice self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help your loved one. This includes taking care of both your physical and emotional needs.
- Take care of your own physical health! Continue to see your doctors for your own physical health and do not ignore symptoms. You’ll be no help to your loved one if you are bedridden yourself.
- A social worker or therapist can help you deal with the emotional stresses of caregiving – including depression, anxiety and loneliness. Find a therapist by asking your doctor for recommendations and/or by reaching out to your community for suggestions. Additionally, you can ask your doctor about the availability of hospital based clinical social workers who might be able to help you for no charge (ask about costs upfront).
- Make sleep a priority. Get as close to 7-8 hours/night as you can.
- Find a way to de-stress every day. Even if you cannot regularly leave the house, make yourself a priority for a small part of each day. Take a bath, meditate, exercise, watch TV, read, listen to music, or participate in any other activity you find relaxing and replenishing.
Be an engaged member of the medical team.
It’s hard to manage a serious illness or injury. There is a lot of medical information to learn and keep track of, difficult decisions to make, complicated medication routines to manage, and more. To reduce your stress associated with the management of their loved one’s illness, follow these suggestions:
- Stay organized and on top of all medical issues. First of all, take detailed notes at all medical appointments. And bring them with you to share with your medical team at each appointment. Additionally, bring copies of test results and medication lists (including over the counter drugs) to all appointments.
- Realize that you need to coordinate care between all medical professionals. Do not assume they have access to, or have read, detailed reports from other doctors on your team.
- Ask as many questions as you need until you are sure you understand what the doctors, nurses and other staff tell you. Importantly, don’t be afraid to ask a doctor or nurse to repeat or rephrase a response.
- Ask your health insurer to assign you a case manager, who can be very helpful to you as you navigate the medical world.
- Before a hospital discharge, make sure you clearly understand all instructions. If difficult or unfamiliar tasks are necessary (e.g. injections), practice at the hospital with a nurse until you feel confident. Additionally, if the patient needs home health equipment, ask your discharge planner to help you arrange for insurance coverage and delivery.
For more tips on managing an illness or injury, read these blog posts:
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- 6 Tips to Better Manage Your Healthcare
- Easy Steps to Take Medication as Prescribed
- Keeping Your Medical Information Organized is Easier than You Think
- The Importance of Shared Decision Making
- Doctors Interrupting Patients Can Impact Our Health
Address financial concerns.
- If finances are a concern, you might qualify for financial assistance from one or more organizations dedicated to helping patients with financial hardships. Learn about organizations that provide help with medication costs and other medical related expenses on Zaggo’s website.