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Caring for the Caregiver: The Importance of Self-care

When stepping up to care for an ailing family member, the caregiver’s own well-being is often the last thing that comes to mind. Caregivers are often selfless and may not fully consider the challenging nature of caring for a loved one until they are fully immersed in the day-to-day. Less time to attend to personal care is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing a loved one is safe and being cared for properly along with the additional quality time that you get to spend together. The pros certainly outweigh the cons for many, but it is important to recognize that caregivers need to direct some of that loving and protective energy inward as well. Just like no two patients are alike, no two caregivers have the same exact needs either, but there are some commonalities among them that can contribute to “caregiver burnout.”

In a nutshell, caregiver burnout occurs when the caregiver becomes physically, mentally and emotionally drained from the added stress caused by performing everyday tasks for a loved one, not to mention medical and nursing-like tasks that they may not be equipped to handle alone. Here are some of the challenges caregivers face that can lead to burnout:

Sleep deprivation

Initially, a caregiver may have trouble adjusting to the loved one’s sleep schedule and the added pressure of being on call throughout the night can interfere with an individual’s sleep cycles. Additionally, the anxiety caused by wearing the many hats of a caregiver can lead to insomnia which can be extremely detrimental to a caregiver who is already overworked and exhausted from completing an ever-growing list of responsibilities.

Isolation

Oftentimes caregivers immerse themselves in their duties so much so that their own personal social connections may suffer, causing feelings of depression and loneliness. Loss of these connections can, in turn, cause caregivers to feel isolated and as if they have no one to turn to if they need help caregiving or addressing other issues in their personal lives.

Financial burden

Most family caregivers are unpaid. Furthermore, caregiving tasks can actually take the individual away from a paying job and potential career opportunities. According to AARP, researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 family caregivers in the summer of 2016, asking them to keep a log of their expenditures. The study found that family caregivers spent an average of nearly $7,000 a year of their own money. When adjusted for inflation, that number hikes up to $12,000 — $12,700 for caregivers who lived an hour or more away from the patient.

With these figures in mind, it’s easy to see how caregiving can put an unprecedented amount of financial strain on a household.

Lack of personal time

Caregiving is a full-time job and thus many caregivers have little time for themselves and their families, let alone for hobbies or much-needed leisure activities to help them relax. It is difficult to prioritize yourself when another’s health depends on you.

Stress

Stress is a major factor when it comes to caring for a loved one. Caregivers must first face the realization that a loved one’s health is truly in peril and witness a physical, mental and/or emotional decline in this family member’s overall well-being, thus causing anxiety.

Additionally, there are an enormous number of tasks to attend to as caregiver. From cooking meals, bathing and hygiene needs, and getting the loved one dressed and to medical appointments and helping to manage their treatment plan. Executing these tasks daily is a lot of pressure for one person to bear alone.

Caring for a loved one is one of the most selfless things that an individual can do. Caregivers must find a way to manage stress and promote their own relaxation in order to provide the best possible care for the patient. Simply asking for help could mean the difference between caregiver burnout and the ability to pursue your own interests while providing quality care.

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