Caring for Elderly Parents: Stress Signs and Tips for Self-Care
As the population ages, more and more people find themselves providing support to someone else, often a family member or close friend. Caregiving is hard work and caring for someone you love often takes an even greater toll – emotional as well as physical. Caring for elderly parents and the stress that comes with it falls into this category. If you provide care to someone else, you must take time to care for yourself as well.
Many people who provide care to an aging parent don’t view themselves as a caregiver. However, a caregiver is anyone who gives care to another person (even a close family member) who is disabled, ill, dying or aging. A caregiver must recognize this role to ensure they receive the support they need to stay healthy themselves.
Providing care to another can be very fulfilling and rewarding. When a close family member or friend needs care, it’s natural to want to be there for them. When this happens, however, roles often shift within relationships. A parent who was once the care provider for a child now needs care from the child. A husband who has been there as a support to his wife can no longer provide that and requires help himself. These changes can be hard and cause many different emotions to surface – anger, frustration, loneliness, sadness and exhaustion are common.
Nine Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress
Caregiver stress is often overlooked or ignored because the care provider often focuses on the care recipient’s needs and not their own. It affects the care provider and it affects their ability to provide care to another. Caregiver stress, including stress while supporting an elderly parent, manifests with physical as well as emotional symptoms that may include:
- Feeling constantly worried or overwhelmed
- Feeling frequently fatigued or tired, despite having gotten enough sleep
- Easily feeling angered or irritated
- Having feelings of sadness or apathy
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities that once provided pleasure
- Abuse of drugs including prescription medications or alcohol
- Experiencing frequent body pain, headaches or other physical symptoms
- Increasing or decreasing weight
- Getting too much or too little sleep
Risk Factors of Caregiver Stress
All caregivers are more likely to have higher amounts of stress than others. However, certain individuals are at a greater risk of experiencing caregiver stress, making them more vulnerable and at risk of developing long-term health issues themselves. Risk factors for caregiver stress can include:
- Being a female care provider
- Financial difficulties
- Being a live-in care provider
- Spending more time doing caregiving activities – as the hours spent caregiving each day or the duration of time increase, so does caregiver stress
- Caring for someone with a chronic or progressive illness such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Feeling a lack of choice in having to be a care provider
- Social isolation
- Insufficient problem solving and coping skills
- Fewer years of formal education
Excess stress, especially when it’s experienced for extended periods of time, can be detrimental to your health. Caregivers often have problems getting enough sleep or incorporating adequate amounts of physical activity into their life. Additionally, their diet often falls short and doesn’t provide the nutrition they need. All these things work against you, increasing your risk of severe medical problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Tips for Self-Care when Caring for Elderly Parents
Care providers should take advantage of every resource and tool available to effectively care for themselves while also providing care to another. After all, if a caregiver becomes ill, they won’t be able to care for anyone else and may even require a caregiver themselves. So, how can caregiver stress be prevented or managed?
Take Advantage of Respite Care
Caregivers should take breaks from their caregiving responsibilities and do something for themselves. These breaks are beneficial, enabling you to return to your responsibilities refreshed. Respite care provides that break, whether it’s for a few hours or a few weeks. You can get respite care by:
- Having another family member assume caregiving responsibilities to give you a break
- Hiring a professional caregiver or caregiving service to provide the care for you temporarily
- Taking advantage of local adult day care centers and programs which are especially beneficial to care providers who work
- Taking advantage of respite stays offered by some senior living communities
Knowing that a break is coming when your caregiving responsibilities can be released to another makes the stresses of caregiving easier to handle.
Maintain Your Relationships with Others
You won’t be a caregiver forever. Set aside time each week to spend with friends going to have coffee, taking a walk or video chatting. Seek out family and friends who can provide nonjudgmental emotional support.
Join a Support Group
Since support group attendees are going through many of the same struggles as you, support groups are great places to share your difficulties with others who understand, find successful strategies that others are using and a valuable place to find encouragement and validation. Many members of support groups develop meaningful and lasting friendships. Some support groups even offer caregiving services to make it easier for you to attend. Many are online and specific to the issue you are facing, such as Alzheimer’s support groups or lung cancer support groups.
Be Willing and Prepared to Accept Help
Keep a list of things that need to be done that others can do. When asked if you need help, hand them the list and let them choose what they’d like to do. Your list can contain items such as running errands, various housekeeping chores or sitting with the care recipient while you get away or take a nap.
Take Care of Your Health Needs
Visit your doctor regularly, letting them know that you’re a care provider. Drink plenty of water. Develop good sleep hygiene. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. The better your health, the more likely you are to be a strong, supportive caregiver to your parent or other relative.
Take Advantage of Local Resources
Beyond support groups, there are other resources often available to care providers. Many communities offer classes related specifically to whatever disease your care recipient is dealing with. Caregiving services, such as housekeeping, meal delivery, transportation and respite caregiving, may be available. Some may even be free of charge. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator to learn about services in your area.
The Atrium at Boca Raton is Here to Help
Caring for your elderly parent, relative, friend, or spouse may not be sustainable indefinitely, especially if they have a progressive disease like dementia that will require full-time support in the later stages. If you become so overwhelmed that you just can’t do it anymore, you’re not alone. It happens to many care providers. The Atrium at Boca Raton can help. We offer assisted living and memory care in Florida that is both affordable and comfortable – a luxury lifestyle at a competitive price. Contact us to learn more.