- Posted by jdavis on June 13, 2011
by Steve Slon, Hearst Newspapers
November 7, 2010
“There’s a mental health crisis in this country, and the problem is largely being ignored,” says Lily Sarafan, co-author of Happy to 102: The Best Kept Secrets to a Long and Happy Life.
“Studies show that 40-70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant levels of depression,” Sarafan says.
When caregivers are hurting, what can be done about it?
Part of the problem is self-inflicted, according to Sarafan. Primary caregivers tend to get into the mindset that they have to do it all — and only they are qualified to care for their family member properly. That’s a formula for disaster, says Sarafan who is also COO of Home Care Assistance, a provider of non-medical, in-home care. “People start to think they can’t take even an hour off,” she says. “But caregivers need to realize they can only be good at their job if they get some time to recharge and get back to the task.”
Sarafan offers the following tactics for avoiding caregiver burnout:
- Make the most of your “me” time: “Time away from caregiving needs to be something that can keep you focused and centered,” says Sarafan. “If time is limited, better to use it for an activity like yoga or meditation than watching TV.”
- Be a joiner: There are multiple opportunities for caregivers, such as therapy or discussion groups at local senior centers. “Sharing your fears and concerns in lively discussion with others can go a long way toward combating symptoms of depression,” says Sarafan.
- Stay fit: “Statistics confirm that those who care for someone with dementia are much more likely to experience dementia themselves in the future,” says Sarafan. “A big part of the solution is prevention, which means taking care of yourself, being physically fit, eating healthy foods, and being social.”
- Ask for guidance: “Sometimes burnout is not caused by laborious duties, but the sheer weight of the responsibility,” says Sarafan. “The hard choices and responsibilities are as much the cause of caregiver burnout as actual tasks such as bathing or dressing.” Sarafan recommends that stressed families consult with a geriatric care manager, a licensed advisor who can assist with complicated situations requiring difficult choices (caremanager.org). Let’s say there’s disagreement among siblings about placing a parent in assisted living. A geriatric care manager — as an objective outsider — can help family members arrive at workable solutions when emotions might otherwise have gotten in the way. Case in point: “Let’s say one sibling lives 300 miles away and can’t help on a daily basis,” says Sarafan. “That’s a typical cause of family trouble because of the imbalance of responsibility. One solution might be for that sibling to agree to come in for a weekend each month to give the primary caregiver some time off.”
- Hire a helper: To give yourself or the primary caregiver a break, consider hiring an aid for a few hours a day, or just on weekends. “People don’t feel guilty when they hire a nanny,” says Sarafan. “There should be no shame in hiring an aid for an elderly patient to give the primary caregiver a break.” You can also check out free support services from one of the various Offices on Aging. These can be a bit tricky to find, since they have different names in different regions. To find the one nearest you online, go to eldercare.gov or call 800-677-1116.
- Watch for warning signs: Keep alert to the symptoms of depression in caregivers. These include emotional lows and highs, feelings of isolation, low energy or a very short temper or fuse. “If you’re an outside person looking in, a sudden change in the personality of a caregiver can be a sign of someone who badly needs a break,” says Sarafan.