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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Caring for the Exhausted Caregiver

Last evening I talked to a friend from another state who is also a caregiver. This friend has been home for a week resting and sleeping after having basically collapsed from exhaustion. This caregiver is a paid caregiver, and lives to help others, to serve, and to minister to the needs of others. It is frightening to hear the long hours, lack of sleep, isolation,self-sacrifice, and obvious exhaustion that has occurred with this caregiver, and with others.

When a caregiver is so exhausted from long hours and stress that a week of staying home, mostly resting and sleeping, is the result, then it's time to try to find ways to make changes to relieve this. But it's easy to say and hard to do.

Family caregivers find it hard to find or afford help, so they keep on going, often without rest, exercise, or time to relax. If they care for someone who needs assistance to reach the bathroom they may be getting up many times per night, plus assisting all day.

Paid caregivers earn minimum or low wages, and they are trying to survive so it is tempting to overwork. Plus they often love to help others and they neglect themselves. They often work long rows of 24 hour shifts, getting up frequently during the night to provide assistance, plus providing stand by assistance during the day.

Family caregivers are often unable to pay for hired help, and often unable to find trained volunteers who are accustomed to dealing with people with mid to late dementia or Alzheimer's, or other illnesses and injuries. They keep on going as exhaustion and stress accumulate.

The recent articles on "Caregiver Syndrome" highlighted this, but many people have no conception what it is really like for these caregivers. The other recent articles that spoke of the effects of caregiving on health and longevity made it clear that research shows caregivers are less healthy than noncaregivers.

Last evening I tried to get the idea across to my exhausted friend, who was returning to work. But the problem remains of how a caregiver can really get help before her or his own health gives out too. Whether someone is a family caregiver or a paid caregiver with a desire or avocation to serve the needs of others the stress and exhaustion have been well documented.

I am thinking some special positive thoughts for my friend, and for all the exhausted, stressed caregivers out there. But, I wish there was something more concrete to do in order to help.

An easy solution to the current caregiver crisis is difficult to find, and it won't get easier in the future as more people are needed to act as caregivers for an aging population. When the caregivers need care too, because exhaustion and stress has made them ill, what can be done?

There are many lists of self-care tips, but many caregivers don't have a moment to catch their breath between the demands of taking care of loved ones who may have multiple issues that need to be addressed.

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