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Your Health

Simple Steps to Help Ease Stress for Family Caregivers

It's a labor of love but stress of family caregiving often necessitates outside support

One of the most stressful jobs around today isn’t found in corporate America. Rather, it’s a job that one in every four Americans wakes up to each morning. Can you guess what it is? It comes with the title “family caregiver” — a role that brings significant rewards and equally significant challenges.

Susan Johnson
Susan Johnson

Statistics from a recent report tell the story. This information was collected through Home Instead Senior Care’s Web site at www.caregiverstress.com. About 76 percent of the 8,000 family caregivers who took the company’s stress test reported that their aging loved one’s needs are overwhelming.

There is more: 91 percent of family caregivers who completed the test said they have episodes of feeling anxious or irritable; 73 percent have disturbed sleep patterns; and 56 percent seem to become ill more frequently.

Every day, we encounter these family caregivers: people who love and want the best for their aging family members, but don’t know how to fit it all in.  For these compassionate people, stress is a constant companion.

A study released late last year by the National Association of Social Workers and the New York Academy of Medicine describes this phenomenon well. The study was entitled “Squeezed Between Children and Older Parents: A Survey of Sandwich Generation Women.” The poll, which surveyed more than 1,100 women ages 35 to 54, showed that more than 60 percent of women concerned about an aging relative’s health said they have difficulty managing stress. That compares with 48 percent of women for whom an aging relative’s health was not a worry.

Furthermore, women concerned about an aging relative’s health were about three times more likely (34 percent) to say they worry “a great deal” about having enough time for family. That compares with 12 percent of women who were not responsible for the care of an aging loved one.

Most family caregivers agree that there are many rewards associated with this job, so they don’t want to give up caregiving. Rather, they just need some additional support — support that can make all the difference for them, and for those they’re providing care.

In addition to asking for help, there also are many things that family caregivers can do to take care of themselves. Here are some tips:

» Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like — such as walking, dancing, biking, running, or swimming — for a minimum of 20 minutes three or more times per week.

» Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as quiet as possible whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver.

» Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help including family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers.

» Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins (including nuts and beans) and whole grains.

» Attend to your own medical needs: Just like you make sure your loved one gets to the doctor regularly, make sure you get your annual check-up.

Indulge: Treat yourself to a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative.

» Support: Find a local caregiver support group, which will help you understand that what you are experiencing is normal for someone in your position.

Since 2002, Home Instead Senior Care has been helping older adults improve their quality of life in an environment of support and safety that allows them to remain at home. Click here for more information or assistance with these challenges or other issues associated with aging, or call 805.560.6995.

— Susan Johnson represents Home Instead Senior Care.

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