A family caregiver will spend more than 24 hours a week providing care to a loved one, although many will report spending more than 40 hours per week on caregiving duties, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving study in 2019.
Family caregiving can be a genuinely rewarding experience, but it can also come with challenges. FirstLight Home Care has been serving local communities for the last 10 years and we have found that caregivers face these common top challenges when caring for elderly family members:
Financial burden. Some of the financial consequences of supporting aging parents include the need to take off work, as well as paying extra expenses like medicine, transportation and hospital costs. The cost of care can be extremely expensive because most family caregivers are unpaid. Caregivers often feel some financial strain, especially when caregiving takes them away from their paying jobs.
Physical and emotional stress. Caregiving is undoubtedly full of stressful responsibilities, and research has shown that it can lead to negative psychological and physical effects. The responsibility of caring for another person in addition to your current workload, family and personal obligations only adds to the stress. Additionally, when faced with limited support, family caregivers are often left alone to deal with the burden, causing mounting pressures. This may result in emotional and physical stress. Connecting to an organization like FirstLight®, who provides the best in-home care, senior and respite care, can offer support, peace-of-mind, and help reduce stress levels.
Feeling alone or isolated. According to Dr. Douglas Nemechek, Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”
One of the biggest challenges a family caregiver faces is the sheer “constant-ness” of their role. Caregiving has many moving parts and responsibilities – especially if there are multiple doctor appointments, pharmacy runs, meal preparation, laundry, and bathing. As the care demands increase, the amount of time a caregiver has to themselves decreases, leaving them experiencing loneliness and symptoms of clinical depression due to the lack of balance in the caregiving situation.
To combat loneliness, it’s important for the caregiver to engage with other people outside of the person in their care:
- Utilize online communities to share common experiences. Caregivers need emotional support from people who understand the situation.
- Get respite help. Schedule a couple of hours off per day as needed. Set up a lunch date with an old friend or family member to just relax and enjoy some fun.
- Join a group or take a class. If you can get away for an hour a week, you can find a social group, exercise class, art class or other hobby offered by a local organization.
- Get outdoors. The weather is getting nicer, so it’s a perfect time to get outdoors, soak in the fresh air and see other people.
- Keep a positive attitude. Sometimes, when we have been out of circulation for a while, we start to lose confidence in our ability to socialize. As a caregiver, you may feel you have nothing relevant or exciting to say, but don’t short-change yourself. Caring for a loved one is something very special and rewarding.
- Be a good friend…to yourself. Take long baths, journal, take yourself out to coffee or a movie if you can’t find someone to go with. Do things you enjoy and care for yourself in tangible ways like exercising, eating right and actively practicing self-care.
A decline in their own health from not practicing self-care. Research shows that caregiving can have a negative effect on your health if the caregiver does not carve out time for themselves. AARP reports that caregivers over the age of 50 who are experiencing mental or emotional strain have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of non-caregivers in that same age range.
Their findings state that the combination of prolonged stress, the physical demands of caregiving, and the biological vulnerabilities that come with age place caregivers at risk for significant health problems as well as an earlier death. But despite these risks, family caregivers of any age are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care. Family caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities, including:
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor eating habits
- Failure to exercise
- Failure to stay in bed when ill
- Postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves
It is a balancing act to care for someone and yourself at the same time, but it is important to practice self-care and keep healthy.
Afraid to ask for help. Many caregivers feel ashamed to ask for help from others. They feel they must assume all the caregiver burden and that asking for some assistance may be a sign of weakness. Asking for help in order to make time for yourself can be a challenge, but it’s important. Caregivers need time to re-energize and take care of personal things. So don’t be afraid to ask and allow other family members and/or professional caregivers to help.
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We are proud to CHAMPION the family caregiver, offering empathy, advice, and support for those who provide countless hours of care to their loved ones. We want to provide a helping hand, relieve some of the stress that comes with caregiving and give you back a few hours in your overwhelmingly busy day.
Home Care Association of America: www.hcaoa.org
National Alliance for Caregiving: www.caregiving.org
Cigna Health and Wellness Library: www.cigna.com