What are common challenges that caregivers face?
Caregivers face many shared challenges. With changes in roles and responsibilities, caregivers may feel torn in different directions. The weight of the responsibility of caring for someone may cause feelings of isolation, sadness and grief, as often times the freedom they once had is now occupied by responsibility. They may even begin to fear their own health decline, and worry that their spouse or loved ones may face similar challenges caring for them one day.
Caregivers are also at risk of fatigue – being “on” 100 percent of the time can cause problems, physically, emotionally and otherwise. If you are caring for your own family, while caring for a parent, there may be little time for yourself. Furthermore, unresolved issues within family relationships can feel magnified.
Caregivers are expected to tolerate mood and behavior fluctuations, such as sun downing, anxiety, paranoia, depression, and anger from their loved ones, which can be very challenging psychologically, emotionally and physically. Additionally, caregivers often face tough financial obligations and burden from the added costs of medical care.
Tips for caregivers:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and neighbors.
- Build in time for yourself for respite and relief - eating, sleeping, exercising and socialization are important for your own mental health and brain health.
- Utilize community resources available for additional support and presence, such as hiring a caregiver, or using the services of Adult Day Care.
- Connecting with spiritual resources can be helpful for gaining understanding, strength, and answers to a range of questions and feelings. Helpful strategies may include meditation, yoga, daily prayer, spiritual reading, writings, listening to music, and journaling.
- Educating yourself about dementia through books and seminars is often very helpful, and seminars have the added benefit of meeting others who are in your shoes.
- Professional counseling can lead to an understanding of the disease process and inform your response to challenging behaviors. It can help with handling crisis situations and with family dynamics; can teach ways to balance your needs with those of your loved ones; and address feelings of grief and loss.
What kinds of support and resources are available for caregivers?
The most important tip I can offer is to remind you that is that you are not alone. In fact, AARP estimates there are 34.2 million adults in the United States who have been caregivers to adults this year! There are a wide range of resources available to you and your loved ones to help you through this transition, including the following:
- Support groups through Senior Centers and local hospitals
- The Alzheimer’s Association
- www.caring.com senior care resources
- National Institute on Aging
- Alzheimer’s research forum
- ElderCARE Locator (a nationwide data base offering lists of local resources for older adults and their families): (800) 677-1116
- Elder Law Attorneys for help with estate planning, long term care, Medicaid and POA for healthcare and finances
- Geriatric care managers: www.caregmanager.org
- The NorthShore Neurological Institute
Toni Pliskin, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., is the Director of Social Work at NorthShore University Health System, Neurological Institute. There she conducts psychosocial assessments, provides counseling for patients and families, and links caregivers and patients to community resources, advocacy and education on the disease process and caregiver fatigue.