Adventures in Eldercare (January 2011)
Hand in hand with caring for an elderly spouse or parent is an unfortunate side-effect; Caregiver Stress. It is inevitable that there will be a certain degree of caregiver stress but with knowledge and positive pre-emptive action stress can be minimized. Caregiver stress can reach critical levels, at this point a number of societal issues and personal health conditions are often observed. At the societal level, Caregiver stress leads to lost time from work, breakdown of family relationships and isolation from community. On a personal level, Caregiver stress can contribute to depression, hypertension, disturbed sleep, high blood pressure, back and shoulder pain, weight fluctuations, loss of hair, chest pain and skin disorders.
Unfortunately, the caregiver stress related issues are often well established and causing significant hardship on all involved before the caregiver reaches out and enlists help from family members and friends or hires an eldercare agency to lighten the load. It doesn’t have to be like this, there are some steps that can be taken to pre-empt this outcome. You can not eliminate Caregiver Stress but by following these steps you can significantly reduce it.
Ask for Help. According to one recent survey 72% of adults caring for an aging loved one are doing so without outside help. This is ridiculous, Canadians want to help each other, there are numerous resources available, and asking for help is the first step. Talk to your medical practitioner, call the Senior Support organization in your community, talk frankly with your family members and explain the situation to them. You are not helping anyone, especially yourself by remaining silent, ask for help.
Exercise. Preferably at something you like doing (dancing, walking, or biking). Consider learning Tai-chi or yoga, either will reduce stress. The healthier you are the better you can do your job as a caregiver.
Meditate. Still your mind and breathe deeply when you feel things are moving too quickly. 15 to 20 minutes of quite reflection per day should be the bare minimum.
Eat well. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from high sugar pick-me-ups. Maintain a regular meal pattern.
Take a break. Call in the reserves and get away for a night or a weekend. The renewed energy will benefit everyone.
Indulge. Get a foot massage or a manicure, a nice meal out. Don’t feel guilty about wanting to treat yourself occasionally.
Support. Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you to understand that what you are feeling is common and you can identify with others in similar situations. For example, there are educational programs on caring for a spouse or parent with dementia offered free of charge by the Alzheimer’s Society.
Caregiving is as demanding as it is rewarding. Following some or hopefully all of the above suggestions can make this vital job a little less stressful.
Dr. Bruce Veltri operates Victoria Eldercare, a non-medical home care agency matching exceptional care-givers with elderly seniors to help them maintain independence and remain safely in their own home. Victoria Eldercare can be contacted by phone, 519-429-2644 or the web-site, www.victoriaeldercare.com.