According to a 2009 study by the National Alliance of Caregivers and AARP 66% of the people who are caregivers for elderly relatives are women, the average age is 48, and a third of them take care of two or more people.
First rule : caregiver, care for yourself
AARP’s Elinor Ginzler says that many in the sandwich generation “have added caregiving, the equivalent of a part time job, to their responsibilities.”
One of the first things caregivers need to learn is if they don’t take care to nurture themselves, develop a supportive network, find friends in whom they canfide, and learn to enlist the help of others, the stress can be devastating.
(Studies show that caregivers of relatives dementia, for example, had higher levels of infectious illness, and were more likely to be clinically depressed.)
Those of us, women of a “certain age,” all have friends caught in this incredibly stressful situation. Two ways to help your friends are: help unearth local resources, and volunteer to engage in a pleasant fitness activity together.
Here in Silicon Valley, a great reasource is Council on Aging Silicon Valley offers a Resources Directory. If there’s not something similar in the area you live, a call to the nearest United Way office is usually a good starting point.
Adding to the stress is that in some cases, it’s much more than a part time job. According to web site eCare Diary, caregivers often spend 40 hours a week directly caring for a senior relative who may suffer from debilitating diseases such as cancer or arthritis. Frequently, an elderly relative in a busy boomer’s care is declining from degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, ADL, Parkinson’s or strokes.
Fitness a key element in caregiver survival
For the busy caregiver, staying physically fit is one of the most crucial things to handling the stress of giving care.
In 10 Ways to Deal with Caregiver Stress, from AARP, the first “way to deal” cited is physical activity:
Put your physical needs first. Eat nutritious meals. Don’t give in to stress-driven urges for sweets or overindulge in alcohol. Get enough shut-eye; if you have trouble sleeping at night, try napping during the day. Schedule regular medical checkups. Find time to exercise, even if it means you have to ask someone else to provide care while you work out. If you experience symptoms of depression — extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death — talk to a medical professional.
Ideas for helping a friend (or helping yourself) engage in physical activities might be to put together a team for a fitness walk that you friend is part of (be it 5K or the Avon Walk, this allows for fitness and for friendship). Or offer to join a Zumba class or yoga class together.
Unfortunately, the emotional fallout affects not only the caregiver, but the elder and the entire family. Finding smart ways to share the caregiving role and manage stress is crucial. As we’ve all seen, the work can be as backbreaking as it is heart-rending. And many caregivers find that they are doing the job without the help of siblings or other family members. The declining health of the elderly loved one often leads to difficult questions about end of life decisions, long term care and legal and financial matters. These questions can create ugly family conflicts that pile yet more stress on the overworked caregiver.
eCare Diary BlogTalk Radio recently sent out a press release which helps raise the visibility of this issue and makes note that it will be featuring a show with Laurel Kennedy, author of The Daughter Trap 2pm EDT on July 26th. Also, a former interview by Margery Pabst, author of Enrich Your Caregiving Journey has a show available for free download already posted.
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