A caregiver can be either a family member or paid helper who regularly tends to a sick or disabled individual. Just as you would expect from the description, caregiving is not an easy role. The impact on caregivers (both paid and unpaid) is significant. Based on evidence-based research, we’re now identifying some of these adverse effects.
Caregiver Stress and Its Effect on Quality of Care
It’s no secret that caregivers frequently report high stress levels. Although some level of stress is normal, these individuals often experience chronically high levels that are overwhelming and in some cases, debilitating. The problem is, when a caregiver experiences continuous stress, this is harmful to both the individual and the one(s) they’re caring for.
If you are currently a caregiver, think of it this way — if YOU get sick, who will care for the individual in need? If you are a family caregiver, there may not be anyone who can assist you; and if you’re a paid caregiver, there may be patients who rely on you to function in their day-to-day life.
Once you burn out, you will no longer be able to care for anyone. If you’re unwell, how can you care for someone else? Caregiver burnout is an issue that is sweeping the globe, as more and more individuals require care. The first step is acknowledging that you need help, are you displaying the following warning signs associated with caregiver stress?
- You’re in denial — thinking that your loved one or a patient will get better is not going to help the situation. You need to be involved, increasing your level of education regarding Alzheimer’s.
- You’re angry — do you find that you’re taking your frustrations out on the person with Alzheimer’s? You may be more irritable than normal, resulting in negative responses.
- You’ve become more withdrawn — you no longer participate in activities you once enjoyed and have become more socially withdrawn over time.
- You’re experiencing anxiety and/or depression — do you feel anxious or depressed day in and day out?
- You’re exhausted — are you so mentally and physically exhausted that you struggle to get through the day? This may be leading to a number of minor health problems.
- You’re sleep deprived — whether you cannot sleep because of stress or an increasing level of concern, lack of sleep and caregiving can quickly become a dangerous combination.
Protecting the Mental Health of Caregivers
Of course, every scenario is unique and you cannot generalize across a population. With that being said, it appears that who an individual is caring for makes a significant difference. While focusing strictly on caregiver stress and mental health, a 2015 study, published in the Gerontologist, found that caring for a spouse or child was most stressful.
After the researchers’ analysis was completed, they found that in terms of the female population, when caring for a spouse or child, this was more detrimental to their mental health than caring for others. Although men also showed similar results in that caring for a spouse or children is more stressful than caring for others, it did not affect their overall mental health.
Although children are generally caring for their parents when it comes to Alzheimer’s, there is most certainly a large population of spouses who are currently providing care. Within one study, published in International Psychogeriatrics, it was found that spouses of husbands and wives with dementia, do suffer emotionally.
After studying 391 caregivers and 226 non-caregivers, factoring out gender, education, race, age, and income levels, 25 percent of caregivers suffered from depression, in comparison to just 5 percent of non-caregivers. Researchers suggest that caregivers seek out local support groups. They will be taught key caregiving and decision making skills, while learning the importance of self-care.
If you are currently an Alzheimer’s caregiver, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Whether family members, friends, or paid caregivers assist you, it’s critical that you seek support before you are unable to provide any level of assistance. Caregiver burnout is a reality that many face, which can be prevented with the right course of action.