Caregivers And Depression: Avoiding The Inevitable
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter writes that there are only four kinds of people in this world — caregivers, former caregivers, future caregivers and those who will need caregivers.
Here are just a few statistics to back up her claim:
With millions needing care, who is caring for the caregivers?
Think Of Yourself, Too
Various studies report that 24 percent to 60 percent of caregivers show signs of nonclinical depression. Not surprisingly, the caregivers who report feeling most stressed are adult children who must tend to parents, children, jobs and housekeeping at the same time.
Of course, caregivers must take care of themselves before they can really care for their loved ones. This is especially difficult for those who must dress, bathe and toilet another.
Indications Of A Problem
If you are having a hard time being a caregiver, the first step is to assess your current situation. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may want to try to alleviate some of the stress in your life:
Do you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? Are you missing your own doctor appointments and letting physical exams and mammograms (if you are a woman) slide until you have more time? Do you feel hurried? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Are you easily irritated? Do you feel fatigued and lack the energy to do new things? Have you lost interest in activities you used to enjoy? Do you find you can't enjoy yourself, even during time away from caregiving duties, because you are thinking about the things you'll have to do when you return? Do you have lingering colds? Are your communications with siblings or other loved ones unpleasant? Do you have feelings of unexplained sadness? Do you believe things will never get better? The stock prescription for the caregiver is to take some time off, but that's easier said than done, according to Richard Schulz, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has written extensively about caregiving. He says that using respite care services relieves some pressure, but short-term care introduces new tasks that make the caregiver's life even more challenging — getting the patient dressed and fed, and convincing him or her to trust a stranger.
Even if you have no respite care and no relief in sight, there are many things you can do to improve your caregiving and your life. Here are tips from Ronda C. Talley, director of the Rosalynn Carter Institute, and from the National Family Caregivers Association:
If friends or family offer to help, suggest specific things they can do. A friend might be willing to watch over your loved one for an hour once a week. A family member could cover the insurance filing or help with house repairs. Encourage the patient to do everything he or she can do independently (for example, bathe, brush teeth). The patient will feel accomplished, and the work will be done Spend some time bonding with the person you are caring for. Look at old photo albums. Invite old friends in. Watch a comedy that the person loved when he or she was well. Laughter helps. Encourage the person you are caring for to join a support group. Patients often feel better when they meet others who have experienced similar losses. Eat healthy foods. Ask a friend or family member to contribute ready-to-eat veggies and packaged salads regularly so you always have something healthy on hand when you become hungry. Have a family meeting out of earshot of the patient. Request specific and regular help from family members. Make a schedule. Ask each relative to invite the patient for dinner and a video one night a week. Make exercise a part of your routine. Research shows that in some cases, physical activity alone can relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. If your feelings of hopelessness persist, ask a doctor to recommend professional help. Caring for a loved one gives us the opportunity to return love to the ones who have loved us all of our lives. Farm out as many responsibilities as possible so you can be free to really care for your loved one.
Ultimately the decisions your medical professional can help with include:
Are the patient and the caregiver each doing as well as possible? If not, what services, equipment, medication and environment changes would help? What should the ramp-up pace and order be for the above services? Is there a time and place for separation of caregiver and patient to allow better health and care for both?