Do you find that caregiving is becoming a burden?
You are NOT alone!
Caregiver burden is common and defined as “the strain or load borne by a person who cares for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member.” Sounds heavy, and it is. Caregivers often don't ask for help because they do not recognize caregiver burden as a defined condition. The burden can result in the caregiver developing feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even aggression. Sadly, thousands upon thousands of caregivers may be having burden symptoms but aren’t aware of it. If you are experiencing this, not only does this problem affect your health, but it can affect your ability to deliver care to your loved ones.
So, how common is this problem? Short answer: Very!
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over one in five (22.3%) of all US adults provide care for a friend or family member. Of those, one in three caregivers provided 20 or more hours of care per week. That is a part-time job! 14.5% of all caregivers report having 14 or more “mentally unhealthy days” in the past month, and 17.6% reported 14 or more “physically unhealthy days” in the past month. Over a third (36.7%) of caregivers do not get sufficient sleep. In other words, there are literally MILLIONS of people affected by this issue in some way. Still, I doubt that most know how affected they really are. the demands of caregiving can be so high that up to 30% of older adults who are caregivers die before the loved one they are caring for. The fact that so many caregivers report physical and mental strain due to their role demonstrates room for improvement.
You may be at risk for caregiver burden if you are experiencing any of the following:
Your sleep is disturbed.
Caregiving requires excess time or energy to perform.
Caregiving is a physical strain on your body.
Caregiving has limited your social life.
Caregiving disrupts your routines.
Caregiving has caused you to change your employment, vacations, or other plans.
You have had to split your time caring for other family members or dependents.
Your loved one has certain behaviors that make taking care of them more difficult.
Your loved one has had substantial changes from their former self.
Caregiving causes financial strains.
You quickly become overwhelmed with caregiving.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above, it is time to talk with your health care provider and ask about additional caregiving support. If you care for a loved one with dementia, and they are seeing a memory clinic, that is a great place to seek help. As part of standard practice, geriatricians often evaluate caregivers for burden and discuss supportive strategies. The best approach is individualized support, focusing on your specific needs. This is best accomplished through local resources, agencies, and support groups to provide the help YOU need. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Remember that everyone has limits, and even the best caregiver has a tipping point.
If you feel you are experiencing burden, lighten your load and ask for help!
In this post, we defined a common problem, caregiver burden and discussed ways to recognize it. In the next GeriAcademy blog post, we will discuss strategies to support you as a caregiver.
This post was written by Dr. John Kriese, DO, MSPH