November is National Family Caregiver Month
What is a family caregiver? A family caregiver is someone who is either a spouse, family member, friend, or neighbor who provides unpaid assistance to a person who has an underlying medical condition, illness, or disability. The assistance that a family caregiver provides may consist of daily living activities (i.e. showering, dressing, eating, etc.), financial management (i.e. paying bills, processing insurance claims, etc.), transportation, advocacy, household assistance (i.e. grocery shopping, chores, laundry, etc.), legal affairs, and coordinating services. An estimated 44 million Americans provide unpaid assistance and support to older adults and adults with disabilities.
Family caregivers dedicate themselves to the person they are caring for and often times at the cost of their own health. According to the National Family Caregiver Alliance, evidence shows that most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support, yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves (https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-health). Studies have shown that an influential factor in a caregiver’s decision to place an impaired relative in a long term care facility is the family caregiver’s own physical health (https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-health).
Caregiver burnout can start to happen when the demands of family caregiving cause inordinate amounts of emotional, physical, and mental stress. According to AARP there are ten warning signs of caregiver burnout.
- Anger or frustration toward the person you’re caring for
- Denial about your loved one’s condition
- Exhaustion that makes it tough to complete your daily tasks
- Health problems, such as getting sick more often
- Inability to concentrate that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks or causes you to forget appointments
- Irritability and moodiness
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that you used to enjoy
If you or someone you love is a family caregiver who is experiencing caregiver burnout, try some of the tips below.
- Join a caregiver support group – support groups provide an opportunity to vent, share knowledge and resources, and gain moral support from those that are in similar circumstances
- Get a checkup – take the time to take care of your own health. After all, you cannot provide care to your loved one when you are not at your strongest, physically
- Seek out resources – local not-for-profits, community resources, area agencies on aging, associations, and healthcare professionals such as, social workers, could provide you with valuable resources that save you time and money (check out our list of resources here)
- Get informed about family caregiving – there are many family caregiving websites most notably, Family Caregiver Alliance, AARP, and Caregiver Action Network.
If you’re able to stay on top of your own mental health, it’s easier for you to be the family caregiver that your elderly loved one needs. You’ll have to take those steps, though, since no one can take them for you.
Deal with Overwhelm Right Away
As soon as you start feeling overwhelmed, that’s your mind’s way of letting you know that you need to stop, slow down, and assess what’s going on. Overwhelm is a type of early warning system that allows you to step back and get a handle on your situation. Ignoring feelings of overwhelm doesn’t help them. What it does is allow them to grow farther out of control.
Find Support for Yourself
Having your own support network is essential for a family caregiver. Find friends, family members, and other people who understand what you’re dealing with and what to do to help you. If you’re not already a member of any support groups, it’s a good idea to find one that is a good fit for you. A mix of online and in person support groups can help you to find a wide variety of different people who can help you.
Focus on What’s Truly Important
You won’t be able to do everything that you want to do every day. The sooner you can accept that fact, the better for your mental health. Instead, focus on what is actually important and the rest can be done another time or you can delegate it. If you’re having trouble learning to delegate, start out with smaller tasks and work your way up to delegating larger ones.
Be Specific about What You Need from Others
When you do ask for help, be very specific about what you need help with. Most of the time, people who don’t reach out to you to offer help don’t understand what you need. The more specific you are, the better they can actually meet those needs for you. As you become better at asking for help, you’ll realize that there are actually plenty of people in your life who want to help but haven’t been sure how to go about it.
If you need extra help managing your own mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out. Find a therapist or counselor that you trust to help you get back on track.
If you or an aging loved one are considering caregiver services in Islip, NY, please contact the caring staff at Family First Home Companions. Serving all of Long Island. Call today: (631) 319-3961