If you’re the primary caregiver to a parent, spouse, or older loved one, you’re not alone: over 43.5 million adults serve as unpaid caregivers within the US, according to a national survey. And while caregiving is a selfless, compassionate, and so often rewarding experience, you’re also not alone if you’re experiencing challenges. The same survey finds that 20 percent of caretakers feel emotionally stressed, almost 20 percent face financial difficulties, and 20 percent feel physically strained.
Social worker Amanda Nole offers insight into the stressors many caregivers face. “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of caregiving, especially if you are in that role almost or completely 24/7,” she says. “But taking time for yourself will not only help you, but also allow you to better support your loved one.” Whether you are a full- or part-time caregiver, there are tools and resources available to help alleviate your stress and support you in providing care. Below, Amanda shares her suggestions, as well as both local and national organizations which offer additional guidance.
Irritability, constant annoyance, insomnia, and resentfulness may all be evidence of caregiver burnout, according to Amanda. “Any time you begin to feel resentful or see your loved one as a burden, that’s a clear warning sign,” she shares. Fluctuations in appetite and weight, anger, and withdrawal from family, friends, and favorite hobbies are also things to look out for, according to the Cleveland Clinic. To help caregivers discern if they are experiencing burnout, AARP also provides a diagnostic quiz. “Many people don’t feel like they’re managing their stress well, so it can be difficult for them to say what’s normal,” Amanda says. “Being aware of the early warning signs is important.”
For those who have siblings or other family members that share caregiving responsibilities, Amanda encourages making an investment in “me-time.” “You may not feel like there is time, but there is, and you should choose methods of relaxation that you enjoy,” she explains. This may look like mindfulness; for example, the app Headspace offers guided meditation exercises. Support groups are another avenue that allow caregivers a space to share their experiences with those who are in their shoes. “You always hear stories of people meeting their best friends--or even their spouses--at support groups, because you can build such strong relationships while walking through things at the same time as others,” Amanda says. “Even if you feel unsure about sharing with a group, give it a chance! If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back.”
In addition to community support, many groups integrate guest speakers or other educational components. At the local level, VNA Hospice has hosted support groups for caregivers during COVID-19, and Amanda recommends programs and seminars through the Alzheimer’s Association, such as Candid Conversations seminars, to those caring for loved ones with and without dementia or Alzheimer’s. You can find other local support groups through the Area Agency on Aging or just by Googling by zip code.
Still, if support groups--or meditation--are not your thing, Amanda encourages finding what works best for you. The most important thing, she says, is taking that time to care for yourself, so you are best equipped to care for your loved one.
If you are a full-time caregiver, you may not feel as though you are able to utilize support services, either due to cost or time constraints. Amanda offers several suggestions for taking some time for self-care. “Even if it’s an hour or two, a couple of days per week, I would encourage you to take some time away if you can,” she says. One such resource for respite care is the Caregiver Support Program, which is operated through the Area Agency on Aging. “While a lot of programs focus on the services for individuals who need care, the Caregiver Support Program really aims to provide respite for the caregiver,” Amanda says. “At Senior Day Services, we are happy to act as a middleman between caregivers and the program; if someone is interested in our service, we can refer them to the AAA and see if they are a good fit to receive reimbursement.” In addition, Amanda recommends exploring programs which provide compensation for caregiving, so that caregivers may receive some extra financial support in assisting their loved one.
Stretching yourself beyond your limits is a common caregiver pitfall, according to Amanda. “It’s okay to say no to some things, so you’re able to focus on what is most important to you and your family,” she says. “People are not usually going to be as disappointed as you may expect.” She adds that keeping conflict between family members to a minimum is also important, and one way to do so is to avoid the “comparison game.” Healthy communication and frequent family meetings are critical in order to ensure everyone is on the same page. Finally, Amanda says that you shouldn’t ignore your symptoms or try a quick fix. “People often need help beyond ‘taking a walk.’ Figure out what reduces stress for you; this might be a process, but make that process a priority. Whether that’s going to the gym, venting to a friend, taking up a hobby, or something else entirely, find out what helps you.”
Especially as the seasons begin to shift and less opportunities arise to get out of the house, Amanda encourages caregivers to seek support, whether that means exploring de-stressing activities, taking advantage of support groups, or exploring Senior Day Services’ programs. In addition, she encourages older loved ones and their caregivers to take advantage of technology. “Many people have grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or neighbors that are more than happy to help with technology needs,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask so that you can explore the many virtual activities and groups available.” To keep our clients engaged and up-to-date during COVID, Senior Day Services offers a monthly virtual newsletter--click here to sign up!
Through Senior Day Services’ adult day care program, caregivers can take time to themselves while their older loved ones enjoy a safe, engaging environment where they will receive assistance with daily tasks. “Caregivers do utilize the program to go to work, but others also take the time to do errands or do something else they enjoy,” Amanda shares. “We used to have a client who was declining quickly, and they began to use our services when it became too much for her husband to care for her on his own. When she came to the program he was able to swim at the YMCA or do something else beneficial to him.” Another option is the Senior Companion program, which is free for families in Lackawanna County. Through the companion program, a volunteer will visit the home for a few hours per week, allowing the caregiver to accomplish errands or other activities outside of the home. Click here to learn more about our Senior Companion program --and meet some of our amazing clients and volunteers here! Overall, Senior Day Services strives to provide flexible, high-quality care options for older adults, while also supporting caregivers in the selfless and critical role they play in their loved ones’ lives.