The Christmas season is a great time for connecting with family, friends and loved ones. The season is filled with caroling, giving, and goodwill, along with my favorite holiday beverage – eggnog. Unfortunately, it can also be a time of great stress and depression; especially for the many caregivers who are doing their best to assist a loved one. Therefore, we wanted to devote this last blog of the year to those who so lovingly sacrifice so much to care for family members in need.
Caring for the Caregivers
Families and friends comprise a staggering 80% of the long term care provider needs in the United States. That is significant because when a loved one serves as a long term care provider, it greatly reduces the chances a person in need will have to go to a nursing home. According to a study by the U.S. Administration on Aging, 50% of the elderly who needed long term care had to be placed in a nursing home. Only 7% had to be institutionalized who had a family caregiver.
While that study points to the strong benefits of having a loved one serve as a caregiver, fewer loved ones are available to do so. Recent decades have witnessed smaller families, adult children having their own families later in life, and the mobility of families leading to greater geographic disbursement. So finding a loved one able and willing to provide that much-needed caregiving service to an elderly loved one is becoming more difficult.
Caregiving can be Overwhelming
Caregiving is not for the faint of heart. The physical toll on caregivers includes lack of sleep, elevated stress levels, and chronic conditions such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, heart attack and heart disease that are nearly twice the normal rate. Not surprisingly, mortality rates are 63% higher for caregivers over non-caregivers of the same age.
Caregiving also brings with it a vast array of emotional burdens. Between the elderly patient’s needs, family expectations or disagreements over proper care and the caregiver’s own time constraints and personal obligations, guilt and stress are common, as well as lowering self-esteem, personal worth and life purpose. As many as 40-70% of caregivers experience clinically significant depression.
There is also a financial burden caregivers must endure. Since most caregivers have jobs of their own, they must struggle with splitting limited time between work, family caregiving and personal time. Schedules must be rearranged continually, work assignments missed, and free time lost. Lost wages, lost leave, lost promotion opportunities, lost wages, and sometimes even loss of work itself is the result of too many caregiver obligations and too little time. All of this is in addition to frequent out of pocket expenses provided when caring for a loved one.
Rescuing the Caregiver
Family caregivers are true unsung heroes who make amazing sacrifices while often receiving little to no recognition or gratitude. It can be a thankless job and an overwhelming burden. There are many support groups and programs available to assist you in this family challenge. Reach out to them. Not only for your sake as a caregiver, but for the sake of the person you are caring for who needs you.