If an elderly person is living in your home and you’re paying their bills, driving them to doctor’s appointments, helping them clean, and moderating their medications – and you’re not being paid to do so – then you’re an informal caregiver.
Most seniors being taken care of are related to the caregiver (the adult children) and are receiving this care out of generosity. Yet, informal caregivers spend 20+ hours a week providing care for their seniors. This includes:
- Trips to the doctor
- Trips to the grocery store
- Moderating medications
- And so on!
The amount of work involved to keep the senior happy and healthy puts a great deal of strain on the caregiver physically; financially; emotionally. Not only this, but very seldom are the informal caregivers trained in skilled nursing care (much less took up a profession in the medical field). That’s not saying they didn’t pursue something worthwhile, just saying that they’re not necessarily qualified to provide the kind of care required.
As a result, many caregivers report suffering caregiver stress.
What is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress is real and affects about 75% of all caregivers (with more women affected than men). Caregiver stress can cause:
- Feelings of isolation; loneliness
And worst of all, guilt. Most caregivers disregard the amount of trauma they’re undergoing because they feel overwhelming guilt. Informal caregivers are wont to disregard the amount of fatigue they’re feeling because they feel obligated to care for their elderly – their values are good, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best for themselves.
No doubt, many of the symptoms associated with caregiver stress comes from the time commitment since this is akin to working a part-time job (more even). And, since most informal caregivers are the adult children of elderly parents, they’re working full-time, putting their kids through college, and now need to provide care for their seniors.
This only increases the stress. While the emotional/mental side-effects are bad enough, there are also many physical health problems that can happen as a result. Informal caregivers are more susceptible to things like anxiety and depression, not to mention more prone to long-term medical problems: cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
In most cases, all these side effects are correlative, but it’s because the life style change is so drastic. Caregivers are less likely to go to the doctor if they’ve been driving their senior to and from the hospital; Caregivers are less likely to buy and cook healthy meals when they’re strapped for time; Caregivers are less to sleep regularly when they need to prevent their senior from wandering around the house.
Do not take caregiver stress lightly.
There’s a term psychologists use for codependent people called pathological altruism which means, “good intentions gone awry.” I’m not saying informal caregivers are codependent, but they could learn a thing or two from them. The key to conquering codependency is to recognize your own value and take care of yourself first. Similarly, informal caregivers need to take care of themselves first and if caregiving isn’t working out, then they need to find help.