Statistics show that more than 65 million people in the U.S. provide care for a family member or friend who is chronically ill, disabled or elderly. On average, they spend 20 hours per week providing this care. Taking care of a loved one is a noble, caring and sometimes necessary thing to do. It can bring great joy to give your time to someone who is rehabilitating after an accident, disabled, or suffering from a terminal illness or disease. But, caring for a loved one can also be hard – trying to juggle caregiving while taking care of a spouse, children, even a job, can take a toll both physically and mentally.
Once an overlooked category, caregiver depression has now been deemed a crisis by the National Alliance for Caregiving. The health of the caregiver has garnered widespread attention over the past decade due to the discovery that a family caregiver is more like likely to develop major depression than the rest of the population.
Many caregivers hold full-time jobs yet spend at least 20 hours a week caring for a loved one. Caregivers pay a financial due to missing work or out-of-pocket expenses relating to the care they give. Hence, caregivers find they have neither the time nor the money to seek adequate care for themselves. Many report not practicing healthy eating habits or exercising on a regular basis. Caregivers become isolated because they have no time or energy left over after caring for someone else. These factors can cause psychological distress, affecting the ability to provide proper care for another. When caregivers become depressed, they find it hard to perform duties such as cooking, cleaning and remembering to give medication on a timely basis.
Caregivers themselves are sometimes unaware they are clinically depressed. Feelings of sadness and stress are viewed as being natural in the course of watching someone you love suffer or deteriorate. Balancing caregiving with their own lives – raising families, working and maintaining their own households and expenses – compounds anxiety. More often than not, caregivers place their needs last, increasing the chances of negatively affecting their health.
In the past, the greatest barrier caregivers faced in getting help was that their depression was often not diagnosed and equally undertreated. However, greater awareness over the years has caused doctors and health institutions to research causes, treatments, and most importantly – prevention – of depression in caregivers. Of special note in the area of prevention is the recommendation to seek respite care…having family or community members give caregivers breaks from caregiving responsibilities. In-home care companies, such as Comfort Keepers®, provide respite services tailored to meet the needs of both the caregiver and the special person needing care. Comfort Keepers can be hired to do things such as laundry and light housekeeping, or as daily companions for those in need of constant care.
It is essential for caregivers to become well-educated and proactive in recognizing and fighting depression. Caregivers should follow nutritious diets, exercise regularly and make time for socializing. Learning to share feelings with family, friends and doctors is a big step towards maintaining a healthy balance in caregivers’ lives. Asking for and accepting help from others is crucial. Because, in order to give the gift of time, the most important thing caregivers can do is to take care of themselves first.