Tips to alleviate the financial and emotional stress of caregiver burnout
Do you suffer from caregiver burnout? If you’re one of the 65 million people providing care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member you’re a likely candidate.
I definitely fall into the category. Caring for my children – one of whom has special needs, my husband – who has MS, and my aging father – who has advancing Alzheimer’s, can prove to be a challenge, to say the least. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, it is nothing short of exhausting. Constantly I feel that I’m short-changing someone. There’s not enough of me to go around and I’m confident that the pressure I feel in having so many people rely on me is taking its toll physically.
The elder care crisis that our nation faces has a trickle-down effect on the younger generations who, as caregivers, are struggling to maintain a job, care for children and financially provide for multi-generations.
Even in large families, the role of caregiver and the demands it entails, usually falls on one sibling. The others are usually in denial or in hiding. As one eldercare attorney said to me, I’m the perfect client as I’m an only child. The primary caregiver not only must deal with a potentially cantankerous parent, the demands of children and the requirements of an employer, but the lack of support or criticisms by siblings.
The value of a family caregiver is tremendous yet support services for them are incredibly limited. According to a 2009 survey conducted by Evercare and National Alliance for Caregiving, the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year, almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion). These individuals are virtually on call 24/7 and receive little if any respite. Corporations, while recognizing the increasing demands on adult children to care for their parents, have done little in the way of structuring flexible working situations. In fact, lost wages from caring for parents will cost men who are 50-plus an average $89,107 in 2011 dollars over their lifetime, according to a study last year conducted for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. They also stand to lose an estimated $144,609 in Social Security benefits and $50,000 in pension benefits. Caregiving not only impacts the employee but the employer. American businesses can lose as much as $34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones 50 years of age and older.
The emotional and physical implications of “caregiver burnout” are equally troubling. Attempting to carve out romantic time, let alone private time, is difficult enough with children in the house. Adding the demands of elder care makes it virtually impossible. In a study conducted by Caring.com, 80% of respondents reported strains on their relationships due to caregiving and 25% of divorced baby boomers stated that caregiving played a major role in their divorce. Many times there is resentment when a caregiver is placed in the situation of caring for in-laws.
In general, women tend to overlook their own health issues and necessary preventative care as they juggle the needs of the rest of their family. When her time is absorbed by doctors’ visits, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and paying bills for an elderly parent, the additional obligations leave little time for a caregiver to care for herself. In the same Evercare study, nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers reported not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% said they skip doctor appointments for themselves. This leads to a dramatic increase in health-related issues for caregivers. More than 1 in 10 family caregivers reported that caregiving had caused their physical health to deteriorate.
November is National Caregiver Month and should be used as a catalyst to engage in conversations among families and corporations about caring for the caregiver. Unfortunately, without support, the caregiver will quickly turn into someone who needs care herself. It’s vital that the well-being of the caregiver be acknowledged and addressed as well. The enormous financial and social issues surrounding elder care that we are facing as a society will magnify if we do not put services into place now to relieve some of the caregiver’s burden.
The first step is getting the caregiver to acknowledge they need support. The spouse of a dementia patient might be reluctant to leave him with someone else, fearing an aide won’t provide the quality of care she does. She might deny the magnitude of her daily responsibilities to prevent her adult children from “interfering.” An adult daughter might feel she has no one to turn to and therefore hide what’s really happening.
Family and friends need to look for the signs that a caregiver needs help and, when necessary, bring in a professional such as a geriatric social worker to intercede. If a caregiver feels as if adult children are trying to take over, she will resist any help and perceive it as an intrusion. It’s important to listen, acknowledge and respect the caregiver’sfeelings.