By Karen Read, MSN, RN, Nurse Education, Liberty Lutheran

“Caregiver fatigue”, “caregiver burnout”, “compassion fatigue” are just a few of the terms used to define a phenomena affecting a growing number of people as individuals in the United States continue to live longer. One of the biggest health care crises looming over the nation, say doctors, psychologists and social workers, is the exhaustion and depression faced by those who minister care to aging relatives and friends—sometimes for decades (New York Times). Caregiver burnout affects spouses, adult children and family members whether they are providing 24 hour a day care or are care giving from a distance. The average U. S. caregiver is a 49-year old woman who works outside the home and spends nearly 20 hours per week (equivalent to a part time job)-providing unpaid care to a loved one (AARP). Family members provide about 80% of home care for the elderly, according to various studies but are seldom trained for this job.

The exhaustion of caregiving contributes to an increase in vulnerability to illness and is prevalent in nearly all caregivers-yet unseen by most. The results of this fatigue creep in over time, robbing the energy and focus of the caregiver. Caregivers often become so immersed in their role that they are unable to see their own health decline “right before their eyes” (Caregiver magazine).

One of the important concepts that we need to have family caregivers understand is the importance of self care. In the role of caregiver, individuals must make a conscious decision to put their own care and time into the equation. Some of the tips given to caregivers by the experts include:

• Find someone you trust, friend, co-worker, or neighbor-to talk to about your feelings and frustrations.

• Stay healthy yourself by eating right, getting regular exercise and sleep

• Set realistic goals-accept that you might need help with caregiving and turn to others for help with some tasks. Remember, asking for help is a strength-not a weakness. Some of the alternatives for help include:

o Use of respite care. Click here for information about the respite care that is offered at Artman.

o Use of home care agencies such as Liberty at Home. Click here for more information about Liberty at Home’s Services

o Remember the above can be used for short periods of time or for longer durations-whatever works for your need.

• Educate yourself-the more you know about your loved one’s illness, the more effective you will be in caring for the person with the illness.

• Remember the importance of using humor in difficult situations-this can be a great effective coping tool for you and allow you to highlight the positives.

Whatever your situation, remember you are not alone-be proactive and seek the solutions that work for you and the person who needs care. Taking care of yourself is an absolute necessity and not a luxury!

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