The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.1 The rise of the senior population is increasing every year which means that there is a greater need for caregivers.

Caregivers can have different roles in different phases of a person’s life. The most understood definition is “one who is responsible for attending to the daily needs of another.” This can be financial, emotional, or physical, and these needs might be for a brief time period or the last period of a loved one’s life. The task is frequently placed on loved ones but other people might be involved, like from the health profession. Caregiving is often times perceived to be a thankless job, with usually no pay given in return for services.

Some statistics2 on the role of caregivers in the United States include:

  • 7 million Americans are informal caregivers
  • 86% of caregivers are related to the person for whom they care
  • 66% of caregivers are women
  • 36% of children care for a parent
  • 1/3 of American households report they have at least one unpaid caregiver
  • The average age of a caregiver is 49, though 50-64 is the fastest growing population of caregivers
  • 3 years is the average length of time that relative caregivers provide care
  • 59% of family caregivers are employed

This is a large number of people in our community. That is why November is dedicated as National Family Caregivers Month, to honor and celebrate the invaluable contributions caregivers make to families and community. Caregivers are always on task to be there for those in need, but who takes care of them?  And how can we help them be able to provide loving support and yet find ways to care for themselves?

There are certain signs in a caregiver’s behavior that can mean they need to dedicate some time on themselves. For example, they may show anger, ambivalence, anxiety, depression, disgust, loneliness, embarrassment, and even jealousy. Studies show that an estimated 46-59% of caregivers are clinically depressed2. These are not “bad” feelings, just feelings they will sometimes experience as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.

A helpful example to give to yourself or anyone who is in this role is the need for oxygen. On an airplane, an oxygen mask descends in front of you. What do you do? As we all know, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist anyone else. Only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and most often forgotten—things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.

Some common issues caregivers face include sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to stay in bed when ill, and postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves. Although they might appear simple, these key pieces can easily go to the wayside if one is not careful. 

Here are eight helpful strategies for dealing with caregiver stress:

1. Reduce Personal Stresssee what is realistic for you to do and find ways to seek assistance when needed.

2. Set Goalstake a break from caregiving, get help, and do something fun for yourself.

3. Seek Solutionsthe laundry needs to get done, set up a schedule to do it or pay for laundry service.

4. Communicate Constructivelywhen addressing your feelings use “I” statements not “you” statements. Respect others’ feelings by truly listening to them. Be clear and direct when communicating your needs.

5. Ask for and Accept Helpmake a list of things that need to be done, share it with the helper, and let them choose what they can do. Ask them when you know they are open to hearing your request and are willing to do something for you. Lastly, don’t take it personally if they can’t help. It is not a personal attack, just their own decision.

6. Eat a Balanced Dietmake simple meals that you know you will eat and will help you both emotionally and physically. Lots of colored food items are yummy, and remember drinking water is also important.

7. Start or Restart Exercisewalking is a great form of exercise and so is yoga. Try one or both!

8. Learn from Your Emotionsit is a strength to recognize when your emotions are controlling you (instead of you controlling your emotions). Our emotions are messages to which we need to listen. They exist for a reason. Pay attention to them.

Know that you are not alone in this experience. Reach out in your community and see if there are any caregiver support groups or services for caregivers. Caregivers need to be supported and it’s more than ok to do that. 

Want more tips? Whether you’re going through a difficult time or just need someone to talk to about your regular day-to-day, JFS Orlando has licensed counselors that can help you get some self-care. To schedule an appointment, call 407-644-7593 ext. 247 or email Ashlyn.Douglass-Barnes@JFSorlando.org today!

References

1 Population Reference Bureau

2 Family Caregiver Alliance


Author: Carla Fischer, MA, LMHC, LMT

Carla Fischer has been a Mental Health Counselor for over 15 years. She received her training for Mental Health Counseling at Webster University in Central Florida. Carla has traveled extensively; through that experience she developed an understanding of culture and discovered that background shapes who we are and how we experience the world. Carla is bilingual, fluent in English and Spanish she also has a good control of the German Language. Carla approaches Mental Health Counseling therapy with an open heart and mind.  She is aware that the willingness to start opening up and dealing with emotions is the first step in finding solutions to whatever concerns the client. The use of body centering or emotional centered therapy has been an integral part of helping her clients find balance in their lives and work through some of the difficulties that they might face.

Author: Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW

Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW is the Clinical Therapist Supervisor and a licensed clinical social worker at JFS Orlando. Ashlyn has worked in a variety of settings including outpatient community based mental health, inpatient/admission psychiatric hospital, substance abuse/DUI, dialysis/medical, and in home/office outpatient therapy.