Welcome Wisdom

Caregiving: It’s a Balancing Act

by Felicia Juntunen, MA, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management

Just a sampling of the statistics on caregiving provides a sobering perspective on why the topic of caregiving and support for caregivers is so important.

According to The Family Caregiver Alliance, in 2015:

  • 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult over 50 years old.
  • 16.1 million provided unpaid care for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
  • 34% of caregivers were over the age of 65 and two-thirds were women.
  • 25% of caregivers are “sandwich generation” providing care for an older adult and a child under age 18.
  • Americans provided 18.5 billion hours of care valued at $234 billion.

Figures like these make it clear that we all have an interest in understanding the impact of caregiving, knowing the signs of stress and caregiver burnout, and knowing how to promote caregiver well-being.

Whether care is provided by a family member or paid caregiver, the financial impact can be significant. Many family caregivers use after-hours, weekends, and vacations to meet the needs of their loved ones. To fulfill caregiving responsibilities, family caregivers often sacrifice time spent in other relationships and commitments. For those who utilize or plan to use paid caregivers, it’s important to understand the cost of care. In the last two years, due to labor shortages and new regulations, the hourly rate for in-home care has increased to approximately $38 an hour. An Aging Life Care Professional can assist a family in examining their options for care at home, and how to supplement and locate support resources. Care managers regularly help family caregivers by suggesting services, evaluating in-home care needs, attending medical appointments, and providing emotional support.

The physical and emotional impact of caregiving is significant. Caregivers tend to put their own needs after that of their loved one, sometimes neglecting their own health and well-being. Studies show that the stress associated with caregiving increases the occurrence of chronic illness. Signs of caregiver stress include isolation, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to care for personal health needs, and frequent illness. Some signs of caregiver burnout may include becoming easily angered with the person being cared for, ongoing feelings of despair, and chronic insomnia. Understanding the signs of caregiver stress can help prevent the onset of caregiver burnout. A caregiver may not recognize these signs in themselves. A care manager can encourage family caregivers to recognize the importance of pursuing some balance between their own needs and the needs of their loved one.

Aging Life Care Professionals provide support and education to family caregivers, recognizing their value and encouraging them to practice self-care so they can ‘go the distance’ in their role. It’s vital to help caregivers understand that considering and meeting their own needs does not mean they are selfish. Rather, it means they are dedicated to their role and understand they must remain healthy. Taking regular breaks and attending to their own health care is a good place to start. Attending a caregiver support group can ease isolation, offer information, and the value of a shared experience. Asking for and accepting help is also part of self-care. Help may mean asking someone to provide the caregiver with a few hours of respite by staying with their loved one. Help may mean hiring some paid caregiving assistance to supplement care. Even small increments of time a caregiver spends on themselves can have big dividends for their well-being and the well-being of their loved one. Chances are you know someone who is a caregiver. Offer them a helping hand and the encouragement they need to balance their caregiving responsibilities with their own self-care.