What is Caregiver Strain and How to Avoid It
Caregiver role strain is a common condition experienced by caregivers. Taking care of ill or elderly loved ones is selfless and rewarding.
But it is also a very demanding task that can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Here is everything you need to know about what you can do to prevent and treat the caregiver role strain.
What Is Caregiver Role Strain?
A caregiver is a person who looks after sick or elderly family members, helping them with daily tasks such as dressing, preparing meals, feeding, bathing, and administering medications.
Most caregivers are not trained professionals. That’s why, even when you are highly motivated, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the responsibility and the physical and emotional demands of your caregiver role.
Caregiver role strain occurs when you get affected by the caregiver role to the point that you become unable to provide the required care.
Can Caregiver Role Strain Lead to Caregiver Burnout?
As you focus on taking care of a family member, you may neglect your own well-being. The self-neglect and stress that take place over longer periods of time can cause loss of physical strength and illness. As a consequence, your caregiver duties may become even harder to carry out.
The prolonged caregiver role strain can lead to caregiver burnout. It can affect your mood, making you feel frustrated, angry, anxious, and depressed, and potentially cause permanent damage to your health. Research shows that family caregivers who experience caregiver burnout often age prematurely and may lose as much as 10 years of their life.
Who Is at Risk of Caregiver Role Strain?
Although anyone who takes care of a family member can experience caregiver role strain, you are at higher risk of suffering from the condition if:
- You are a woman. Women are more likely to suffer from caregiver role strain than men. They tend to provide time-consuming care to ill or disabled family members, while men are usually responsible for less emotionally charged tasks like doing home repairs or paying medical care bills. Studies also show that female caregivers spend up to 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.
- You are a young caregiver. Younger caregivers are more susceptible to the stress involved in sudden shifts in the family dynamics.
- You are a caregiving spouse. Caring for an ill or disabled spouse can cause a gradual decline in your health and places you at a higher risk for caregiver stress.
- You live with the person you care for. Statistics show that if you live with the person you care for, you dedicate twice as many hours to their care than you would if you lived apart.
- You care for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Caring for patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia demands coping with challenging behaviors like agitation and wandering. The risk of caregiver role strain increases when safety issues are added to the list of caregiver’s everyday concerns.
- You are not a caregiver by choice. Adult children who have to take care of their aging parents because they live the closest, for example, may experience resentment and frustration and are at higher risk of developing caregiver role strain.
- You belong to the “sandwich generation.” When you are torn between your parents’ needs and those of your own children, you are more susceptible to the caregiver role strain.
What Causes Caregiver Role Strain?
While caregiving is a rewarding opportunity to assist a loved one, taking care of a chronically ill spouse or elderly parent is a stressful experience. Here are some of the most common factors that cause caregiver role strain:
As a caregiver, you may naturally expect your assistance to have a positive effect on your loved one’s health and well-being. However, the expectations about the impact of a caregiver's role are often unrealistic. This is the case in particular if you are looking after a family member who suffers from a progressive disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
Juggling multiple roles
Being a caregiver while at the same time working and taking care of the members of your own family can easily increase stress levels and affect your health.
Lack of a support system
Support is associated with a better quality of life and keeping stress at bay. If you don’t have a network of people you can turn to for help when you are dealing with a stressful situation, you risk experiencing caregiver role strain and burnout.
Lack of skills
Looking after a loved one will become even more taxing when you lack the necessary skills. On top of that, you may become frustrated if you lack information about how to effectively plan, manage, and organize the required care.
From paying doctor bills to having to work shorter hours or take a leave of absence, caregivers often find themselves facing financial pressures. The longer you have been a caregiver, the more likely you are to feel the financial strain.
Demands of care
Besides providing help with most daily tasks and activities, caregivers are frequently responsible for monitoring their loved one’s health, communicating with healthcare providers, and advocating for various services. These tasks put additional pressure on the caregiver and increase their stress level.
When you carry out your caregiving responsibilities without taking regular breaks or having any kind of assistance, you may find it difficult to maintain personal relationships and feel isolated and alone.
Neglecting your well-being
While you are busy meeting the needs of your loved one, it is easy to forget to take care of your emotional and physical health. If you are not eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough rest to help you maintain the energy needed to care for someone, you may easily get affected by caregiver role strain.
What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Role Strain?
Symptoms of caregiver role strain can be both physical, emotional, behavioral, and social. Many are very similar to the symptoms of regular stress and depression.
It is extremely important not to ignore those early signs of caregiver role strain. Timely attention to symptoms through exercising, eating a healthy diet, accepting help from family and friends, or consultation with a trained health professional may help prevent the development of more serious conditions.
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Chronic tiredness and exhaustion
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Muscle aches
- Increased illness
- Stooped posture
- Neck pain
- Mood swings
- Crying spells
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Inability to concentrate
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Avoiding decision-making
- Low job productivity
- Marital problems
- Intolerance of others
- Social withdrawal
How to Prevent the Stress and Anxiety of Caregiver Role Strain?
Caring for a loved one is a demanding task that can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Fortunately, there are several proactive steps you can take to prevent caregiver role strain from affecting your well-being.
Techniques for stress relief for the caregiver
While you are providing invaluable care and assistance to your loved ones, it is important to also focus on your own needs. Here are some small steps you can incorporate into your daily routine to prevent stress and become a better caregiver:
Meditation is a perfect stress-relief technique for caregivers because it can be done anywhere and doesn't require a lot of time. In fact, you can get the benefits from just a few minutes of meditation per day. Mediation will help lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, and improve concentration.
As a caregiver, you may sometimes experience overwhelming levels of frustration, anger, and anxiety. Deep breathing will force you to pause and calm down so you can better deal with your emotions. Simple breathing techniques can reduce your stress levels, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and help you better regulate your body’s reaction to stress and fatigue. Ultimately, breathing exercises will reduce the risk of caregiver role strain and burnout.
Restorative yoga is a practice that allows your muscles to relax deeply through passive stretching. What’s more, having your loved one join you in restorative yoga will strengthen your bond while lowering your stress levels.
Exercising is a great way to burn off stress resulting from your caregiver role and improve your overall health. Regular exercise can help prevent conditions common for caregivers like anxiety and depression. Any form of exercising, from simple walking and jogging to stretching and weightlifting will be beneficial for your health and help you improve endurance, flexibility, and strength.
Slow movements accompanied by deep meditative breathing that are associated with tai chi have been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve circulation, and boost mental focus. If you wish to include your elderly family member in your tai chi routine, you may opt for the seated tai chi, which is a great alternative for seniors with limited mobility.
Tools that can help make the caregivers job easier
Being well equipped for your caregiver’s role will boost your confidence and help you cope better with its demands. There are numerous tools available for caregivers that you may find useful:
Personal Emergency Response Systems
Personal emergency response systems (PERS) are lightweight transmitters—typically in the form of a wristband or necklace pendant—that allow the elderly to call for help in the event of fall or injury at the press of a button.
Personal emergency response systems like Medical Guardian, Philips Lifeline, LifeStation, and QMedic are among the most popular alternatives.
Adaptive equipment including walking aids, pocket magnifiers, hand-held reachers, shower grab bars, and dressing aids can assist your loved one whenever you’re not around. Using this kind of equipment can both be beneficial for you as a caregiver and boost your loved one's confidence and independence.
Moreover, knowing that falls are one of the most serious problems of the elderly, you should always make sure to clear the clutter, remove loose rugs and cords, use nightlights and motion detection lights, and place frequently used items within easy reach to keep your loved one safe.
Automated pill dispensers
For your care recipient’s safety, it is essential that they are able to take the correct daily dose of their medication. Accidentally skipping or taking double doses may have serious health consequences. Automated pill dispensers that prepare medications on a pre-programmed schedule can easily automate this task. Most dispensers lock when they are not in use, preventing the patient from taking the wrong pills.
LiveFine's Automatic 28-Day Pill Dispenser, Livi Automated Medication Dispenser, and Hero Automatic Pill Dispenser are just a few of the many automated pill dispenser types you can choose from.
Home automation systems
Home automation systems can simplify your loved one’s life and keep them comfortable. With automated systems like Amazon Echo Plus, you can control everything from door locks to smart lighting and thermostats that you can turn on or off from anywhere and set based on your preferences and schedule.
Home monitoring and security
Home monitoring will ensure the safety of the person you’re taking care of and give you peace of mind. Indoor cameras are a great way for you to keep an eye on them while you are away. You can rely on the smart cameras to detect and prevent slips or check that your loved ones are getting enough sleep, eating and drinking properly, and taking their medication on time.
Home monitoring systems like GrandCare have activity sensors that keep track of daily activities while allowing for independence and privacy. In addition, these systems can grant access to doctors and healthcare providers, which makes them a good holistic solution for people who require ongoing care.
Apps for caregivers
Apps designed specifically for family caregivers will help you stay on top of your caregiver’s role. Caregiver apps such as CaringBridge, CareZone, Lotsa Helping Hands, and Caring Village serve as a command center for organizing all your caregiving activities. They allow you to upload and access important documents, keep records, store medication details and preparedness checklists, share access with family members, and ask for and coordinate help from others.
GPS tracking and location devices
A serious worry for caregivers of family members with dementia or Alzheimer's is that their loved one will wander off. GPS tracking can notify you if this happens and, in some cases, also provide a trained team to find them. GPS tracking and location devices come in the form of bracelets, watches, shoe inserts, and key chains so that there is no need to inconvenience your elderly family member with a smartphone that they may not feel comfortable with.
How to Treat Caregiver Role Strain
Once you start experiencing caregiver role strain symptoms, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Not only will you be able to improve your life quality, but that of your loved one too.
Take care of your health
Failing to take care of your health can cause you to fall ill yourself, which will make your caregiving duties even more stressful and difficult. The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to take care of someone else. You’ll be more satisfied and have positive feelings about your role as a primary caregiver, develop a better relationship with your loved one, and feel more confident in your ability to help them.
As a caregiver, you should make sure to get enough sleep, exercise on a daily basis, limit alcohol intake, and eat well. Try to avoid fast food, sweets, and snacks and prefer high-quality, nutritious meals. Eating your meals with your loved one may be beneficial in strengthening your bond.
Getting organized will help you reduce the stress associated with your caregiver’s role. Maintain a schedule and write down everything you need to do each day, but at the same time remain flexible for any unpredictable situations. Routines will have a huge impact on the amount of time and effort you spend on your caregiver’s tasks.
It is a good idea to keep a journal of your loved one’s health, organize their medication, and keep track of appointments, respite care, and other engagements. In addition, do your best to prepare for emergencies and anticipate your loved one’s future needs. All of these steps will help reduce caregiver role strain and improve your physical and mental well-being.
Build a support system
Like most caregivers, you may be taking on too much responsibility because you don’t wish to burden friends and family with difficult demands. However, to be able to provide successful caregiving, you should ideally not do your job alone.
Ask for help from family and friends
Don’t hesitate to communicate your emotions when you start feeling overwhelmed. Find someone to talk to, whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or a counselor. Welcome any support you can get and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
You should try to share your caregiving responsibilities with other family members or friends whenever possible. Make a list of the tasks they could help with. Ask them to choose the ones they feel they will be able to carry out.
Make sure to set reasonable expectations both for yourself and others. Unless they are putting your loved one at risk, accept that other people may be helping in different ways. They will be more inclined to give you a hand if they are not being criticized for the way they are completing their tasks.
Consider professional help
If there are no family members or friends nearby who can assist you in your caregiver’s tasks, you may want to reach out to your physician and ask about senior care resources in your area. The physician may also suggest taking some extra steps to protect your health, such as monitoring your blood pressure at home or taking vitamin supplements, for example.
Take advantage of respite care services that will provide you with a temporary break from your duties. Respite care services can offer anything from a few hours of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility. After you have spent your free time with friends or pursuing your hobbies, you’ll be able to recharge your batteries and be more present and focused on your caregiving tasks.
Join support groups
Look for a caregiver community that you can turn to in times of frustration and sadness. Online support groups are a great option for caregivers because you can join them at any time. There is no need to arrange for respite care or leave the house to go for a meeting. You will always find other caregivers who are willing to listen to you, recommend resources, offer advice, and share their experiences.
Caregiver forums and Facebook groups like AgingCare, Caregivers Hub Support Group, Caregivers Connect, and Caregiver Support Community are some of the numerous online caregiver support groups you can join.