Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caregiver - Is This You?

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A forecast based on information from New York University, found that caregivers are twice as likely as non-caregivers to report physical and mental health complications. One in 3 caregivers uses medication for caregiving-related issues and depression in caregivers is 3 times greater than for non-caregivers in their age group.

Another report compared the healing process of caregivers and non-caregivers. Caregivers and non-caregivers were given identical wounds. Caregiver's wounds took up to 24% longer to heal than non-caregivers. Caregiver's immune systems were too stressed to function efficiently.

A lot of this stress is based on isolation and loneliness. Elder caregivers, whether they live in the same home as the cared for, or in separate homes, are often so engaged with the elder's needs – physical, mental and emotional – additonally their jobs, homes, marriages and possibly growing children, they clearly cannot find the time to take care of their own needs. Add that to the caregiver's drive to give the elder the best treatment possible for the time he or she has left – and you get tremendous burnout. But the caregiver seldom talks of burnout, for fear of sounding like a “bad” person. So he keeps it inside. Often, the short period of intense care extends into years, and by then the caregiver is so engulfed in the routine of 24/7 caregiving that she can't get out. This self-neglect leads to a feeling of isolation and loneliness, even when the caregiver is surrounded by people.

A caregiver often feels as if she has no more to give. She will give and give until she is empty. Anger, often turned inward and hidden, turns to resentment. Resentment eats at the emotions of the caregiver. And the downward spiral continues, often leading to physical and emotional illness.

The simplest things can help. A couple of hours to spend bicycling, with mom being watched by a trusted friend, can help "Dan" feel cared for, thus breaking the cycle, for a time. An evening out with friends can refresh "Sue" an adequate amount so she can provide loving care another day without feeling completely depleted at the start. Sound good? There is just one problem!

The problem, of course, is in the nuts and bolts. Where do we find this relief?? Friends may provide help in emergencies, but they don't look at your day-in-day-out caregiving as an emergency. They see it as your life.

This is where parish nurse programs, block nurse programs, social services, churches, synagogues and non-profits fit in. As our country has fought (and still is struggling) to provide adequate child care, we need to find respite care for the millions of caregivers who are themselves getting sick from stress, loneliness and isolation. Give them a chance to attend group meetings where others are going through the same things. They understand and everyone can blow off steam.

A church group would be a good place to start to find those who have a couple of hours to give, and match them with a caregiver who doesn't seem to have a second alone. Block nurse programs train volunteers to do just that. Yet, caregivers are often too stressed to even search or ask for help. Check your phone directory for the local area on aging, as well as the listings in your local newspapers. Most news sources will have a section on support groups and other resources that just may save your life.

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