If you or someone you know is caring for a loved one with dementia or other chronic health conditions, then you know it can be a highly stressful undertaking — so much so that it can lead to Caregiver Syndrome, a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent.
To meet the inherent pressures of caregiving while also trying to manage the responsibilities of their own lives, caregivers need to be vigilant about their self-care. But, all too often, they neglect their own health for the sake of caring for a loved one. This usually results in losing sleep; battling anxiety, depression and irritability; gaining or losing weight; and/or developing new or worsening health problems of their own.
To help avoid these common consequences, self-care is critical — and not only on a physical front but also on an emotional and mental level. In addition to engaging in regular exercise of some type, caregivers need to seek a support system in which they can talk about the challenges they are facing trying to juggle their lives with the caretaking of a loved one. Support systems that help them feel that they are not alone include support groups, hobbies, or journaling regularly about the difficulties they face. Giving voice to the experience helps mitigate emotional distress.
Taking mental breaks also is imperative. Having another family member or friend take over caregiving for a short time on a regular basis gives the primary caregiver time to see a movie, engage in a sporting activity, shop, lunch with a friend, or relax at a spa or nearby beach –even if just for a few hours. And a long weekend getaway is ideal if it can be arranged. The chronic stress of caregiving without any relief is what causes much of the fallout from the experience.
A high level of self-care also can help balance any unresolved family conflicts or relationship dynamics that are brought to light as a result of the caregiving process. Perhaps one spouse is disturbed by the family interference that can occur when the other spouse is caring for a parent in the couples’ home, or an old family feud between siblings is reignited. Sometimes therapy for one or more family members is needed to address the relationship conflicts that can occur.
New Leaf Center therapist and co-owner Jackie MacKay, M.A., LMHC, NCC, CSAT, recently addressed the mental health challenges of caregiving on the “Aging Well with Robin and Mel” radio show, sponsored by Senior Helpers and Brain Flex Wellness, and airing on Mondays at 6 p.m. on FM 102.5 WFLA Orlando/540 AM.
To learn more about help and support for caregivers, click here to listen to the complete 40-minute interview without commercial interruption.