Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Caregiver Strain

Caregiver strain is not exactly my area of expertise. But it is definitely something that anyone working with patients with life-threatening illness or anyone who has cared for elderly parents is aware of to some degree or another.

What is Caregiver Strain?

Some researchers have defined it as the demands, responsibilities, difficulties and negative psychic consequences of caring for relatives with special needs. Some of the symptoms of caregiver strain include feelings of grief, guilt, fatigue, resentment, embarassment, increased irritability, loneliness and isolation, anger, and self-blame. Many of these feelings are normal and to be expected, but when they are constant or interfering with your life, it's important to reach out for help. These feelings can also lead to loss of interest in providing care, increased alcohol consumption, insomnia, and weight loss or weight gain. If you are experiencing any of these changes in your lifestyle, contact your health care provider for assistance.

The Journal of Gerontology published an excellent tool for assessing for caregiver strain. This tool can help a third party spot caregiver strain in a loved one.

But what can be done about caregiver strain?

Getting assistance with supportive resources is essential. This support may come from within the family or from the community. This includes financial support, someone to come in and give you a rest referred to as "respite care," help with transportation if necessary (such as taking your loved one to a medical appointment and giving you some time off).

Tools such as the ones above can help social workers identify areas of strength and weakness for individual caregivers and aids them in identifying what resources may be appropriate to prevent or alleviate caregiver strain. Support groups for caregivers have been incredibly helpful for many.

As caregivers for people with Altzheimer's face particularly difficult challenges, there are many resources for Altzheimer's families that may have useful information for other caregivers, including this site on looking after personal and emotional stress.

And the University of Virginia has a great site called site Loving Care that has many helpful suggestions as well.

Caregiver Strain has been shown to have negative effects on the health of the caregiver. So these feelings of burnout should not be ignored.

I welcome any recommendations for support for caregivers and welcome caregivers to share their stories. You are not alone.

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