It’s natural to want to be there when your aging loved one needs help which is likely why there are an estimated 42 million unpaid caregivers in the United States caring for someone age 50 or older according to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP’s report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020.” That’s 1 in 6 Americans taking on this immensely rewarding but also incredibly stressful role. Here’s how that stress can affect you over time along with tips on how to navigate caregiver stress during these life transitions.
The ABCs of Stress for Caregivers
NAC and AARP’s report states that caregivers provide about 24 hours of care each week. For most, that’s in addition to their other family responsibilities, as well as their job. With all that going on, it’s easy to overlook the signs of caregiver stress, which include:
- Being overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight suddenly
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad often
- Having frequent headaches, body pain, or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Tips to Cope with Caregiver Stress
Even if you are experiencing some of these signs, you may think they aren’t consequential enough to warrant action or that you have no choice but to grin and bear it: so to speak. But the reality is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be as much help to your loved one as you could be. In fact, prolonged stress can lead to health issues such as an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia, poor concentration, digestive issues, and a weakened immune system.
However, there are many ways you can cope with caregiver stress. Our tips include:
- Finding a support group; you can find a sampling of options through AARP
- Building a support network of family and friends who can help with your loved one
- Keeping up with YOUR regular, preventative doctor visits
- Consider talking to a family counselor or therapist about your stress
- Committing to eat better and get regular exercise
- Allowing yourself to rest when you need it
- Making time to spend with friends, family and to pursue your interests
Perhaps even more important is to know when to ask for help. Realistically you can’t do it all, and there may very well come a time when your loved one requires more care than you can provide at home. At this point, it may be time to consider senior living.
Considering Senior Living for Your Loved One
It’s never easy to consider senior living for a loved one, even with all the benefits it can offer for their health, safety, and quality of life. But as a caregiver, it’s often even harder to take this step. From the outside looking in, it may seem like senior living can relieve much of the stress caregivers experience, and it will, but you may initially feel even more stressed just for considering it. It’s usually guilt that drives this, and some of the most common reasons include:
- A past promise you wouldn’t make them move
- Feeling like you’ve failed them as a caregiver
- Taking them out of their comfort zone when they’re struggling the most
- Feeling it’s unfair to live a normal life when they can’t
While these reasons are certainly understandable, you mustn’t let them cloud your judgment of what’s truly in your loved one’s best interests right now. After all, whether they are at home or in senior living, you’re still caring for them, just in a different way. Not to mention, families are often surprised at how quickly their loved one begins to thrive in senior living, with many saying they wish they’d made the move sooner. Check out our guide on Choosing the Right Senior Living Community for more information. Or, contact us today to schedule your virtual tour!