The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report that unpaid assistance (usually by family members) and support is provided to older adults and individuals with disabilities by 44 million Americans who are 18 years of age or older. Unpaid caregiving assistance is valued at approximately $306 billion annually. This number is just about double the cost of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).
Evidenced by research, caregivers often put themselves at risk, suffering from mental, emotional and physical health problems as a result of the rewarding, but very difficult work of providing care for those with chronic or disabling conditions.
Caregivers have higher levels of depression and mental health problems than individuals their age who do not provide care for someone else. At least 30 to 40% of those caring for someone with dementia are depressed and under emotional stress. Placing a loved one in a nursing facility can exacerbate depression and anxiety in a caregiver.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
- Anger – at other or at the person for whom you are caring
- Isolation or social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in friends or hobbies
- Loss of energy
- Trouble sleeping
- Eating too much or not enough
If you exhibit even one or two of these signs, it’s time to build in some relaxation for yourself. Doing so is a difficult thing when the person for whom you’re caring is often times totally dependent on you for everything. Enlist the help of a friend, neighbor, or family member who says “Let me know what I can do to help.” Depending on the care recipient’s illness or condition, locating respite care for a short period of time may help give you a needed break, mentally and physically. Look to a home care agency, nursing home or assisted living to provide respite, again, depending on your loved one’s circumstances.
If your loved one is still relatively active and social, research adult day health care center programs. There are social models and medical models and those which are specifically for individuals with dementia. Many centers even provide transportation. Even if your loved one attends just twice a week, you’ll feel better and they’ll begin to look forward to the activities at the center.
The caregiving may be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have, but it’s also OK to feel that it’s one of the most difficult. Support groups exist for almost every condition and disease. A good starting point to locate a support group is the national website for a particular chronic illness or condition. If you know someone without Internet access, direct them to the CT Association of Area Agencies on Aging for help.