42 million is a big number. That is how many caregivers to older loved ones AARP estimates there are in the United States, and no surprise, the number of sons and daughters and husbands and wives of older adults with needs is growing. We do not see this mushrooming segment of the population, but it is changing the lives of the caregivers in fundamental and often unhealthy ways.
One of the reasons we do not readily see caregivers is that the AARP survey reported that 44% of the caregivers simply do not talk about the unpaid job they do. No one, it seems, wants to look like the unloving family member who is having difficulty performing their caregiving tasks. As a result, about one third of caregivers report they are either sad or just plain depressed. Another third avoid any decisions that might give them a break or better leverage their time with their loved one. And another third simply go it alone, isolating themselves from their friends, colleagues or any support networks. Fully 38% report they are sleeping less, and nearly a quarter are eating more on top of that. Caregiving can be bad for the caregiver’s health! Most of this symptomatic profile of the stressed caregiver owes to the simple fact that caregiving is their “other job;” more than six in ten caregivers age 50 or older also have a full-time salaried job.
As geriatric care managers (GCMs) caregivers are the people with whom we work in support of their care receivers, and the services we provide to the caregivers can be every bit as important as those that we offer their older loved ones. If you or someone you know is a “stressed caregiver,” please consider the following from a professional “stress reliever” to stressed caregivers:
- Ask AARP. The AARP website is a veritable wealth of information for caregivers to older loved ones, and they have a dedicated portion of their web site devoted to caregiver resources.
- Involve the Family. Don’t try to go it alone if you have siblings or other family members. Not only can many hands make fast work, but fresh perspectives and energy can help the caregiver doldrums that arise from too much solo stress.
- Catch a Break. If you do not have siblings, check your community for respite care services. If there is a senior residential community in your locale, they often have drop off facilities for non-residents…which gives everyone a break.
- Talk to Your Employer. This is in step with not going it alone. If you are stressed with caregiving it will show at the workplace. Rather than be judged as a suboptimal producer, talk to human resources about possible flex time or a leave.
- Call a GCM. To more fully explore your options, call the option-makers for the decision-makers. You can find a GCM in your locale by going to the association web site.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to info@cr eativecaremanagement.com.