A caregiver is anyone who provides care for another person in need. This could be a child, an aging parent, an ill spouse, or even a friend or neighbor in need. According to Womenshealth.gov, in 2012, 36% of Americans, most of whom are women, provided unpaid care to another adult in the past year. As Baby Boomers age, it is expected that number will rise.
Caring for an aging parent or spouse usually begins with the best of intentions. Caregivers are special people – big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well-intentioned; they are motivated by and feel a great sense of satisfaction knowing they are doing right by their loved one. However, it is often at the expense of the caregiver’s health and results in Caregiver Syndrome.
Caregiver Syndrome is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from the caregiver’s lack of self-care. It is typically a chronic, long-term challenge as the caregiver often faces years of caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia are among the most likely to suffer from Caregiver Syndrome. If you are caring for a spouse; if you live with the person you are caring for; if your loved one exhibits behavior or care needs that are challenging to deal with; if you feel you have no choice about caregiving; if you are responsible for young children as well as the person for whom you are providing care, you are at more risk of suffering from Caregiver Syndrome.
Without sufficient help and support, the caregiver is left vulnerable to wide range of physical and emotional problems, putting the caregiver’s health at risk and affecting their ability to provide care. As their own health deteriorates, their ability to care for their loved one diminishes. Some of the physical health risks caregivers face include heart disease, depression, compromised immune system, weight gain, and sleep deprivation.
It’s easy to get caught up in all of the things that our loved one needs. I was the sole full time caregiver of a close family member for two years – I know how difficult it is to maintain balance and practice self care. I also know, first hand, the consequences of not taking care of myself – my entire system became so weakened that I ultimately broke out in Shingles! Nearing two years after the outbreak, I continue to experience pain and discomfort in my arm where the outbreak occurred.
The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is this: if you aren’t healthy, who is going to care for your loved one? Taking care of yourself is of utmost important. Remember, there is a reason why the flight attendants tell the passengers to put their air masks on before assisting anyone else. If you pass out from lack of air, how will you help anyone else?
Here are some tips to prevent or manage caregiver stress and help avoid Caregiver Syndrome:
- Ask for and accept help. This was particularly hard for me – I was sure no one would be able to provide for my loved one the way I did, and what if something happened when I was gone? I was able to find a professional caregiver willing to come in for just a few hours a week, allowing me to go on a walk, watch a movie with my children, or just sleep, without worrying about my loved one. Having those few hours were extremely important in maintaining my own health.
- Take care of your health. Find time to go for a walk, or other exercise, even if it’s not for an optimal length of time. Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders.
- Join a support group. Being a full-time caregiver can be very isolating and caregivers often feel there is no one out there who can really understand what they are experiencing. Joining a support group puts you in contact with others dealing with very similar circumstances as you – they “get” it in a way others may not, and understanding you are not alone can help a lot.
- Talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to work with individuals dealing with a wide range of issues, including those suffered by caregivers.
Coaches who focus on working with families are a wonderful resource for individuals facing Caregiver Syndrome. Coaching is solution-based, meaning it spends less time discovering “why” and more time working on a healthy solution to the issue at hand. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) in particular is a very powerful modality for working with caregivers. A central feature of NLP is that we have all the resources available to us already; we may simply not know how to access them at the right times in the most appropriate ways. Trained in coaching and NLP, I can help you access your resources and avoid the challenges of Caregiver Syndrome. I would love to speak with you more, one on one, about how I may be able to help you (and, through that, your loved one). My initial consultation is always free of charge.
Gray Matters Consulting
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