|There's a hole in my soul|
|A study from New York University, found that caregivers are twice as likely as non-caregivers to report physical and mental health complications. One in three caregivers uses medication for caregiving-related health problems and depression among caregivers is three times greater than for non-caregivers in their age group.|
Another study compared the healing process of caregivers and non-caregivers. Caregivers and non-caregivers were given identical wounds. Caregiver’s wounds took up to 24% longer to heal than non-caregivers. Caregiver’s immune systems were too stressed to function efficiently.
Some of this stress stems from isolation and loneliness. Elder caregivers, whether they live in the same home as the person they care for, or in separate homes, are often so in-volved with the elder’s needs – physical, mental and emotional – plus their jobs, house-keeping, marriages and often growing children, they cannot find the time to take care of their own needs. Add that to the caregiver’s drive to give the elder the best care possible for what looks like the short time he or she has left – and you get tremendous burnout. And stressed bodies.
But the caregiver often doesn’t want to talk of burnout, for fear of sounding like a “bad” person. So he keeps it to himself. Often, the short caregiving time that was expected ex-tends into years, and by then the caregiver is so sucked into the routine of 24/7 caregiving that he can’t pull out. This self-neglect leads to a feeling of isolation and loneliness, even when the caregiver is surrounded by people.
A caregiver often feels like all she does is give. She will give and give until she is empty. Anger, turned inward and hidden, turns into resentment. Resentment eats at the emotions and body of the caregiver. And the downward spiral continues, leading to physical and emotional illness.
The simplest things can help. A couple of hours on the bicycle path, knowing that mom is being watched by a trusted friend, can help Dan feel cared for, thus breaking the down-ward cycle, for a time. An evening out with friends can refresh Sue enough so she can face another day without beginning it totally depleted. Duh! You say.
The problem, of course, is in the nuts and bolts. Where does this relief come from? Friends may help in emergencies, but they don’t look at your day-in-day-out caregiving as an emergency. They see it as your life.
This is where parish nurse programs, block nurse programs, social services, churches, synagogues and non-profits fit in. As our country has fought (and still is struggling) to provide adequate child care, we need to look for respite care for the millions of caregivers who are themselves getting sick from stress, loneliness and isolation. Give them a chance to enjoy a hobby or go to a support group where like minded people understand. Where they can blow off steam.
A church group could find people who have a couple of hours to give, and match this person with a caregiver who can’t have a moment alone. Block nurse programs train volunteers to do just that. Yet, caregivers are often too stressed to even search out or ask for help. Click on the agencies and links page at www.mindingourelders.com and look into the agencies that provide help. Call them. Ask for help for yourself or a burned out friend. Your action could save the health – even the life – of a caregiver.