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Caregiving in America: The New Normal

By Peter DiMaria

Home Care in Enfield and Region: Home Helpers Article Published in the Journal Inquirer.

This article was published in the Journal Inquirer on Febrary 10, and distributed in the towns of Enfield, Suffield, Somers, Ellington, Stafford, Tolland, Vernon and Manchester.

Last year, in the United States, 20 million people became caregivers for a loved one, according to estimates by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). Currently, 48% of people over 45 years old is providing more than 20 hours a week of family care to a loved one. That is a growing trend in America: caregiving is the new normal.

Stepping up to take care of a loved one is an honor and a work of love. However, it takes a toll on people. Many caregivers give up a job and are forced to choose from taking care of their loved one or looking after their own children. They are known as “the sandwich generation.” A study recently published by Merril Lynch points that 83% of these sandwiched caregivers say they are struggling to find a balance between caregiving and other responsibilities.

At Home Helpers, we have been seeing how escalating care needs take a toll on family caregivers, affecting:

  • family roles;

  • personal lives;

  • health, and

  • general well-being—every day.

Initially, the time and effort a relative devotes to caring for an aging loved one is seen as a labor of love. But as care needs evolve, family caregivers can find themselves experiencing “caregiver stress.” Caregiving becomes a burdensome juggling act in which the caregiver suffers, family disagreement escalates, and the care recipient no longer feels loved and supported. Ultimately, the physical and mental health of the caregiver will be at risk, as stress mounts: they burn out.

We get a lot of calls with inquiries from people who are going through these difficulties and are having a hard time dealing with them. Many times, the caregiver role draws in the caregivers, without them realizing it. They just feel the frustration growing and cannot place where it is coming from.

Senior Care Enfield: Caregiver Stress Symtoms

Here’s a short list of 9 symptoms we often see when someone is suffering from caregiver stress:

 

  1. Anxiety: there’s a constant need to get things done, coupled with a feeling that you don’t have enough time. You are constantly building “to do” lists in your mind, trying to figure out how you would be able to accomplish these tasks. The uncertainty about the future makes you even more anxious.

 

  1. Sleeplessness: It is hard to lay in bed, and You may stay awake thinking about your long list of concerns, things to do or what could happen in the next day. You could even feel tired, but still be unable to rest and sleep;

 

  1. Health Problems: Caregiving begins to take a toll on the caregiver, mentally and physically. You begin to get sick more than usual. When the caregiver fails to pay attention to these signs and doesn’t talk to a doctor, they escalate.

 

  1. Denial: Failure to recognize the disease and how it changes you and the person it affects. There’s an illusion that the situation will get better or be ‘fixed.’ You have difficulty agreeing when someone notices that you have been sick and tired.

 

  1. Depression: Overwhelming feelings of sadness or despair. You feel guilty for not being able to change the current situation or seem incapable of making things better.

 

  1. Withdrawal: There is no desire to see friends or family. You avoid people or activities you once enjoyed. As the signs of stress appear on your face and reduce your overall disposition, you avoid people because “you don’t look good.” You feel you can’t talk about your situation with friends because “nobody knows what it is like.”

 

  1. Exhaustion: Feeling run down. This kind of fatigue makes it challenging to complete daily tasks. It feels difficult to get out of bed in the morning because you feel you never get enough rest. Exhaustion is very typical with caregivers who receive little or no outside support;

 

  1. Loss of concentration: You may find it difficult to focus on tasks at work or at home, as your loved one and your caregiving duties consume your thoughts. You stop a task in the middle to do something else; then you have difficulty remembering what you were doing in the first place. Tasks remain unfinished and come back to haunt you, as you seem not to be able to focus;

 

  1. Anger: You may feel resentful of your loved one for needing care or angry at other family members who are not helping you. You see yourself screaming or yelling when someone contradicts you or makes little mistakes.

Ask for Help: Respite Care in Enfield

When you begin to experience one or a few of these symptoms or when caregiving seems overwhelming, it is time to get help. Talk to your doctor about your physical and emotional symptoms. Seek caregiver support groups or search online for groups of people who are going through the same situation as you.

And remember: it is always OK to ask for professional help. Whether you just need respite care for a weekend off or help for a few hours a day to be able to relax and “have your own time,” you should seriously consider it.  Take time to be with your loved one and let someone else provide care, allowing you quality time together. After all, we cannot take care of others if our wellbeing is compromised.

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