Most Americans have been and will be informal caregivers at some point during their lives. A recent survey pointed out that about 36% of the population had provided unpaid care to another adult with an illness or disability in the past year. That percentage is expected to go up as the number of elderly in the United States rises. Caregivers are usually related to the person who needs care. Caring for a loved one can be rewarding on one hand but stressful on the other because of changes in the family dynamics, financial pressure and added workload.
Women provide the majority of care. There are many that work on an informal basis that the accurate numbers are hard to come by, still caregivers are thought to be anywhere from 59-75% female. The average caregiver is about 46 years old, married, and works outside the home. They may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. The caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion often accompanied by a change in attitude — positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. It can occur when the caregivers do not get the help that they need, or if they try to do more than they are able to – either physically or financially. Many of them feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. This guilt not only endangers their own health but can also place the person they care for. They often suffer from debilitating stress that can endanger their own health and place the person they care for at risk.
Caregiving does not cause depression, nor will everyone who provides care experience the negative feelings of depression. But in an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or a friend, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs. This causes a heavy toll on them. The negative feelings come and go over time, but when they become more intense and severe, they leave caregivers drained of energy, crying frequently or easily angered by their loved one or other people. Concerns about depression arise when the sadness does not go away and when the negative feelings are unrelenting. Since caregiving is a chronic and a long-term challenge for the caregivers, they are prone to stress and are at an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Without any help and support they are so much mentally exhausted and emotionally burnt that they themselves become vulnerable to a gamut of physical and emotional problems. For some caregivers it can be disheartening when they see no hope that the family member who is being taken care of will ever get better.
Caregiver burnout is caused by too much long-term stress when an individual starts feeling overwhelmed and can not meet constant demands. As the stress continues, they begin to lose the interest or motivation that led them to take on a certain role. Their emotional and psychological health can affect their physical health.
Many caregivers do not take time to care for themselves. They can take some steps to prevent this burnout by finding a trustworthy individual – such as a friend, co-worker or neighbor, with whom they can talk about their feelings and frustrations. They should set realistic goals and should be open to accepting help from other family members, local organizations, support groups, etc.
They can also take advantage of respite care services. They should acknowledge the fact that there will be a time when the patient will require nursing services or assisted living outside the family home. They should not forget about themselves when they are taking care of someone else. Their healthy body, mind and spirit not only benefit themselves but also the loved one who are they taking care of.