It’s an old story, and one that staff members at assisted living and skilled nursing communities hear all the time.
“Caregiver burnout is heartbreaking for everyone involved,” says Kristin O’Dea, health services counselor at Peoria’s Lutheran Hillside Village senior living community. “Too many times, we see an older couple where one person has been taking care of the other, and it’s just been too much for them. They wear themselves out, and in the end, they both end up needing care.”
But caregiver burnout doesn’t only affect aging couples. The adult children of older adults can also be susceptible, although often times, the effects are more psychological in nature. Caring for a family member can bring with it feelings of isolation, anger at having to take on additional responsibilities, the heartache of financial burdens, and more.
According to the National Alliance of Caregivers, approximately 65 million people serve as caregivers for aging relatives. That’s around 29 percent of the US population.
“It’s a public health concern, and it’s a big one,” says Dawn Jordan, a social worker with Lutheran Senior Services. “In addition to mental health issues like depression, you also have a lot of family caregivers who neglect their own physical health needs to focus on taking care of mom or dad.”
Especially at risk, Dawn says, are men, who make up some 40% of the family caregiver population. “As a group, males usually wait longer to ask for help with the burdens that caring for a family member creates. So when they do get help, it’s often to address a more serious—and costly—need.”
To first-time caregivers, Dawn offers four tips:
- Know your situation. Learn as much as you can about any illnesses or conditions affecting your loved one. It can make you a more effective caregiver, and help make them more comfortable as well.
- Understand your limits. None of us is Superman; no one expects you to move mountains. There’s only so much anyone can expect from you. Coming to terms with that isn’t a weakness. It just means you know the point at which you can no longer give your best efforts.
- Lean on your friends. Find people you can talk to, especially people in the same situation as you. Hospitals, social agencies, and senior communities offer all sorts of support groups for family caregivers. Make time to go, if only to compare notes with others who are in the same boat.
- Research your options. There are always alternatives, even if you don’t take advantage of all of them. Too often, caregivers feel locked into their current course of action, and when things aren’t going well, they can feel frustrated and powerless to change their situation. Just knowing that help is available can be an immense relief.
And, if you decide to seek out some of those alternative options, there’s a wealth of organizations in your area dedicated to helping care for your aging loved ones.
- Assisted living communities. It is important to understand both what assisted living is and what it is not. Many times, families wait too long to pursue assisted living options, only to find out that their loved one’s condition has worsened to the point where 24-hour skilled nursing care is their only option. Visit with a health services counselor to discuss the criteria for assisted living so you have a clear view of all your options.
- Respite care. Many home health agencies can offer respite care – a short-term caregiving option that gives family members a much needed break.
- Adult day centers. These organizations are an ideal solution for families who cannot afford to miss work to tend to a loved one’s condition.
- Geriatric care management. GCM agencies exist to manage most any facet of an aging client’s care, from coordinating in-home help to arranging doctor visits.
If you’re caring for an aging loved one, the professionals at Lutheran Senior Services can help you understand all your options and plan out a course of action. For more information, call our Aging Answers line at 1.888.LSS.LIVING.