According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, approximately 52 million people in the United States care for a sick or disabled adult. What is a caregiver? The Family Caregiver Alliance defines a caregiver as “anyone who provides assistance to someone else who is, in some degree, incapacitated and needs help.” Of the estimated 52 million caregivers, the majority are unpaid female individuals. Initial stress symptoms may include mental and physical problems including emotional intolerance, headaches, digestive disorders, and muscle aches. As the stress continues, the symptoms become more serious and chronic and may include sleeping disorders, eating disorders, depression and/or anxiety and serious escalation of emotional intolerance. According to a study done in August 2006 Journal of Palliative Medicine, caregivers showing psychological distress is as high as 62% compared to 19.2% in the general population.
How the caregiver perceives the role of caregiving will strongly influence the person’s perception of stress, self esteem, and quality of life. The stress experienced by the caregiver is directly influenced by certain factors: the nature of the care recipient’s illness and the expected prognosis; the extent of the caregiver’s support system; the quality of the relationship between the caregiver and the recipient prior to the onset of the care giving role; and financial resources. The strength and type of relationship between the caregiver and the recipient prior to the caregiving role will directly influence how the caregiver perceives the role of caregiving as an act of love or as an act of obligation. The caregiver who has no siblings, or no available siblings, to share the responsibility will feel much more isolated or trapped, significantly increasing the level of stress. Finances are always a huge concern and influence the level of stress of the caregiver directly and indirectly.
There are certain things that the caregiver can do to help reduce one’s own stress. Amy Stern, a licensed clinical social worker at the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Irving Sherwood Wright Center on Aging, suggests these following tips for caregivers to maintain their own physical, mental, and emotional health:
1) Give yourself credit. Recognize what a good job you are doing.
2) Maintain your physical health. This includes eating correctly, exercising, and taking care of your medical needs. Do not skip your doctor appointments.
3) Take a break. Schedule “time off” away from your role of caregiving.
4) Keep up your social network. Make it a point to stay socially connected with family and friends.
5) Treat yourself. Do something special for yourself once to twice a week.
6) Get support- support from a knowledgeable, trusted source.
7) Seek professional assistance.
8) Educate yourself. The more you know and understand about your loved one’s condition, and prognosis, the better prepared you are in caring for your loved one with less fear and anxiety.
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