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Caregiver burnout reality for families

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Posted: Saturday, June 22, 2013 11:55 pm

NEW BERN — Lee Norris, R.N. and agency director of the Home Instead Senior Care Office, speaks from personal experience when she said it is a physically and emotionally grueling job to be a caregiver for a family member.

“I’ve been there, and it takes a toll … it is difficult, very emotional,” she said. “It is also physically hard when you’re taking care of someone you love.” She said it is important for caregivers to avoid distress or burnout stemming from their additional duties.

The need for these caregivers to relate to other struggling individuals and find help led to the launch of the free Family Caregiver Distress Assessment Tool at www.caregiverstress.com.

After a short list of questions is answered, the caregiver’s stress level is measured, and advice offered.

The Home Instead Senior Care Office here that offers homecare services in Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties, and across the nation, realizes there are a large number of family caregivers in the area and wants to help with their need for time to maintain a personal life around taking care of family.

Individuals who are full-time caregivers for family members are likely to experience “caregiver burnout,” according to Ms. Norris and J.D. Bobbitt, who is her husband and the agency’s managing director.

The pair explained caregiver burnout can lead to feelings of anger, depression, high blood pressure, obesity and increased chance of stroke, among other health problems.

Caring for an aging or ill family member can impact you emotionally, mentally and physically. Mr. Bobbitt said often people do not realize they are one of many who are suffering from their caregiver duties.

The top five things suggested by Ms. Norris and Mr. Bobbitt to help family caregivers includes taking a few hours several times a week to get away and regain a sense of your own life again, getting sufficient sleep, exercise when possible and attend a support group with other individuals who are in the same situation. They also said it is helpful to talk with aging family members about what they want in the future if their health declines. Will they want to remain in their current house, or downgrade to a smaller location? Would they be financially able to move to an assisted living home?

By taking these important steps, it can ensure better care for the ailing loved one as well as the caregiver.

“It is important to get the caregivers to take care of themselves,” said Ms. Norris. “Because if they don’t, who is going to give the loved one the care?”

Pat Wesson, community educator for Friendly Caregivers in-home agency in Morehead City, also said she understands how important it is to avoid caretaker burnout.

Ms. Wesson was a caregiver herself for a decade, taking care of her husband while he dealt with Parkinson’s and dementia.

“The stress indicators for me were an overwhelming sense of constant change, sadness, obesity and frequent mood swings,” she said. “That changed when I became part of a Parkinson’s support group and joined the Friendly Caregivers team. Both gave me a sense of hope.”

As a part of her caregiver burnout, Ms. Wesson gained 100 pounds and a number of corresponding health issues. Her situation is not unusual, as research shows many family caregivers experience similar situations.

She says laughter is the best possible medicine, but it is also helpful to use respite care from a licensed agency now and then, accept there are events you cannot control, and visit your doctor to maintain your own health needs.

One county citizen, who asked keep her identity anonymous so as to avoid alarming her family, is currently taking care of an ailing parent and said the stress has been hard to handle. She said she has recently started seeing a therapist to help deal with feelings stemming from the difficulties of assuming complete responsibility for her parent.

In addition to seeing a therapist for anxiety, she said she has dealt with insomnia, a general lack of energy and weight gain. She also said it has been hard on her family who sometimes has to deal with mood swings after a particularly difficult day.

“I was angry that my parent seemed incapable of taking back some of their day-to-day and week-to-week and month-to-month responsibilities,” said the overwhelmed caregiver.   Although there is little time to spend on herself, the caregiver said she continues to see a therapist to help move through the feelings that have stemmed from the difficult situation.

If you feel you are experiencing caregiver burnout, contact your primary care doctor to discuss how to manage your own health issues and consider having an in-home agency help relieve your caretaker duties for a few hours each week.

To organize caregiver help, contact Home Instead Senior Care office at 252-633-3283 or visit www.homeinstead.com/759.

Call Friendly Caregivers of Morehead City at 240-1234 or www.friendlycaregivers.com.

Contact Anna Harvey at 252-726-7081, ext. 227; email anna@thenewstimes.com; follow on Twitter @annaccnt.

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