What is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregiver stress syndrome is a condition characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It typically results from a person neglecting their own physical and emotional health because they are focused on caring for an ill, injured or disabled loved one.
There are a number of factors that can play a role in caregiver stress syndrome. For some caregivers, the constant demands of caring for a person who has a serious illness can result in burnout. For others, the lack of boundaries between their roles as a caregiver and a spouse, child, or other loved one can be challenging. Still other caregivers put unrealistic expectations on themselves, thinking that they can do it all and refusing to ask for help. This may often be because they don’t want to be a burden on anyone else. Other caregivers are simply frustrated by the overwhelming needs of their loved one, or the financial and other resources needed to care for someone with a long-term illness or disability.
Caregiver stress syndrome is strongly associated with negative health outcomes. Between 40 to 70% of caregivers suffer from depression, while many caregivers also have anxiety as a result of the stress associated with providing care. Anger and irritability are also common symptoms of caregiver stress syndrome. The chronic stress may also lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and a compromised immune system.
The Facts about Caregiver Stress Syndrome
Caregiver stress syndrome has a significant impact on the lives of those who take care of their loved ones. It can not only impact the mood of the caregiver, but his or her long-term health and wellness. These statistics highlight the magnitude of the problem.
Depression and mental health problems are consistently higher among caregivers than among their non-caregiving peers. This is particularly true for caregivers who are charged with helping someone with cognitive decline. Studies show that 30 to 40% of dementia caregiver suffer from both depression and emotional stress.
Caregivers report that they are stressed and frustrated. 16% of caregivers are emotionally strained, while 26% state that taking care of their loved one is had on them emotionally. 22% are exhausted when they go to bed at night. This shows what many people experience firsthand: the challenges of providing care for a loved one.
Caregiving has a substantial impact on the caregiver’s physical health. According to studies:
- 11% of caregivers state that their role has caused their physical health to decline
- 45% of caregivers reported chronic conditions, including heart attacks, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis;
- Caregivers have a 23% higher level of stress hormones and 15% lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers,
- 10% of primary caregivers report that they are under physical stress from the demands of assisting their loved one physically
- Women who spend 9 or more hours a week caring for a spouse increased their risk of heart disease by 100%;
- 72% of caregivers report that they had not gone to the doctor as often as they should have;• 58% of caregivers state that their eating habits are worse than before they assumed this role;
- Caregivers between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
Symptoms of caregiver stress symptom may include changes in appetite, weight or both; feeling blue, hopeless, irritable, or helpless; withdrawal from friends and family; changes in sleep patterns; getting sick more often; feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring; loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed; emotional and physical exhaustion; and irritability. If you find yourself displaying any of these symptoms, read on to learn how you can deal with caregiver stress syndrome.
How Caregivers Can Deal with Caregiver Stress Syndrome
Once you have recognized the signs of caregiver stress syndrome, the next step is to manage it. Having this condition isn’t unusual — the key is to make your own health a priority so that you can continue to provide care for your loved one.
If you are struggling with caregiver stress syndrome, one of the first things that you can and should do is to take a break. While you may believe that you can handle it all by yourself, the reality is that nobody can. Contact local agencies, family members, friends, or support groups to set up some respite care. This may look different depending on your situation: a home health nurse, a personal care assistant, or an adult day program. You may even find someone in your area who is also a caretaker, and is willing to provide care for a few hours in exchange for you doing the same for him or her. Whatever you work out, use that time to take care of yourself. Do something that you enjoy, or simply rest and recharge.
Next, lighten your load by outsourcing what you can. There are a number of services available for persons with disabilities and illnesses, such as meal delivery, transportation, and adult day care. Take advantage of what is available in your area; many of these services are free or low cost. If you can afford to do so, consider hiring someone to clean or do other chores for you. Anything that you can do to reduce the physical and emotional toll on your shoulders will help your overall well-being.
If you still work, talk to your employer. Many employees are reluctant to discuss how their caregiving roles might be impacting their work. However, your company may offer a number of programs, such as leave (which your employer may be required to offer under the Family and Medical Leave Act), flex time, and other opportunities.
Next, focus on taking care of yourself. Schedule appointments with your own medical professionals. This may include seeing your primary care doctor, specialists, a therapist or counselor, or alternative medicine practitioners. If you are not healthy, you will not be able to care for your loved one. Make sure that you are eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking lots of water. Take time to exercise every day, even if that just means getting outside for 15 minutes for a quick walk around the neighborhood.
Self-care also means taking time for your emotional health. If you don’t see a therapist, find other ways to release your feelings about your role as a caretaker. This may be through a local support group for caretakers, or by talking to a family member or friend. You might even find support online. Venting can be incredibly therapeutic, and can help you get out some of the negativity so that you can refocus and be ready to step back into your role.
Finally, work with your loved one’s team to not only find the best treatment for him or her, but to ensure that you are also getting what you need. Doctors and other medical professionals should be made aware of your needs as the primary caregiver, and working to support you. This can help to alleviate some of the stress that you may be experiencing, and help you find solutions to problems.
Caregiver stress syndrome does not have to be your reality. While it can have a negative impact on your life and well-being, there are ways to recover — and to be a happier, healthier caregiver for your loved one. By taking time for yourself and focusing on your own needs, you can be avoid the perils of caregiver stress syndrome.