The Sandwich Generation, caregivers caring for children while managing care for their aging parents, comprises 40 percent of the family caregiver population and spends approximately 20 hours per week on caregiver duties, as stated in the report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2009”.
A study by the National Center on Women and Aging found that caregivers lose $659,000 over their lifetime in reduced salary and retirement benefits. In addition, family caregivers spend about $10,000 a year out of their own pocket for supplies and materials on the care recipient. Financial strain is just one of many stressors impacting family caregivers.
The National Alliance for Caregiving states that family caregivers report these startling concerns: loss of health; loss of income and loss of family time.
Who is a family caregiver? The report, “Caregiving in the U.S. 2009”, revealed that one out of every four U.S. households – roughly 22 million people – provide caregiver services to a relative or friend over the age of 50.
“That 20 minute walk in the fresh air with my best friend was just what I needed.”
“At lunch I turn off my phone and email and shut the door. Then I close my eyes and enjoy the quiet for 15 minutes. It’s wonderful.”
Just 15-20 minutes here and there each day when you can focus on yourself will make a world of difference in managing your caregiver stress. According to a new Home Instead Senior Care survey, 55 percent of the family caregivers that eventually employed their professional caregiving services appeared to have above average or significant levels of stress as they came on board. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
These tips are recommended while taking care of an aging loved one:
• Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like to do (walking, dancing, biking, running, swimming, etc.) for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times per week. Consider learning a stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation.
• Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as “quiet” as possible whenever things feel like they are moving too quickly or you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver. Many times you will feel like you don’t even have a minute to yourself, but it’s important to walk away and to take that minute.
• Ask for help: According to a national survey by Home Instead Senior Care of adults who are currently providing care for an aging loved one, 72 percent do so without any outside help. To avoid burnout and stress, you can enlist the help of other family members and friends, and/or consider hiring a professional non-medical caregiver for assistance. There is no need to feel guilty for reaching out.
• Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers). Take single days or even a week’s vacation. And when you’re away, stay away. Talk about different things, read that book you haven’t been able to get to, take naps, whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.
• Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains. Indulging in caffeine, fast food and sugar as quick “pick-me-ups” also produce a quick “let-down.”
• Keep your medical appointments. Make sure you get your annual check-up. Being a caregiver provides many excuses for skipping your necessary check-ups, but don’t do it. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.
• 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. You shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to feel good.
• Support: Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. This is a place to get practical advice from people who are in your situation and to bounce off those feelings of stress, since everyone is likely to be in the same situation and can empathize.
As Virginia Morris puts it in her book, How to Care for Aging Parents, it’s important for you to take part in “indulgent necessities.” Everyone needs some pampering occasionally, for both physical and mental health. So don’t feel guilty if you treat yourself once in a while…you deserve it and you need it.
Other Sources: National Center on Women and Aging; National Alliance for Caregiving