September 23, 2011
The toll of caring for an aging loved one is not to be under-estimated. Family caregivers can count the costs in their own illness, irritability and impact on the job. The effects can last long after the caregiving is done.
Q. My 90-year-old mother, who had suffered from dementia, died recently and my father passed on about three years ago. I was the primary family caregiver to my mother and I’m now feeling such a void in my life. In fact, I’m still having trouble sleeping. What can I do to fill the emptiness in my world?
Whether you realize it or not, the role of a family caregiver is one of the most difficult jobs there is. It’s taken your time and energy, and may even have impacted your physical health.
The stress of family caregiving for people with dementia has been shown to impact a person's immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves, according to research.
For several years, the Home Instead Senior Care® network has collected data from caregivers across the U.S. on its caregiverstress.com website. They cite the following reactions or problems.
- 90 percent have experienced episodes of anxiousness or irritability;
- 83 percent say caregiving is “very demanding;”
- 77 percent describe the needs of their seniors as “overwhelming;”
- 77 percent say caregiving is taking a toll on their family lives;
- 56 percent say they were falling ill more frequently;
- 56 percent say caregiving takes a toll on their jobs.
Caregivers such as you need help. They need it almost from the very beginning of their caregiving roles. But many don’t realize that support is still needed even after that caregiving job ends.
If you can, escape to a favorite vacation spot with a loved one or friend. If a trip isn’t in your schedule or your budget, plan some special little outings or retreats. Go for lunch or a pedicure with a friend, join a book club, take up that hobby that you’ve always wanted to do. You might want to consider joining a support group through your church or community. Being with others who have shared your experiences can be very healing.
If you need a paying job, you have excellent prerequisites for that as well. Companies like the local Home Instead Senior Care office often look for people who have experience in family caregiving.
Home Instead CAREGivers go into the homes of the elderly to do many of the same kinds of tasks that I’m sure you did for your own parents such as meal preparation, light housekeeping, medication reminders, errands and shopping. CAREGivers also serve as a respite for weary family caregivers, helping out people who are exhausted from the rigors of caregiving. That is certainly something that you can empathize with. Good luck as you transition into another phase of your life.
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