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Caregiver Burnout (Key Point 1)

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Being a caregiver puts your physical and emotional well-being at risk. If you are caring for a loved one, let your doctor know. It can be important to the healthcare you receive.

Think of the last time you flew on a commercial plane. Before every flight, you are told, "Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others." The same advice is fundamental for caregivers. When they ignore their own needs, they jeopardize their ability to be a caregiver. They also increase their risk for ongoing health problems after caregiving is over.

Research shows that family caregivers:1

Are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety

Are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis

Have higher levels of stress hormones

Spend more days sick with an infectious disease

Have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine

Have slower wound healing

Have higher levels of obesity

A 2004 National Alliance for Caregiving Study revealed that both the time and the intensity of caregiving affect the level of health decline. Caregivers who reported their health got a lot worse as result of caregiving (15%) spent an average of 58 hours a week caregiving and those with a moderate deterioration in health (44 percent) spent an average of 42 hours a week caregiving.

Caregiving has to include caring for you. But how do you do it? To begin with:

Accept your feelings, even the negative ones

Recognize there's no such thing as a perfect caregiver

Identify what you can and cannot change

Be realistic about your loved one's disease

Ask for help

Take care of the basics – follow a healthy diet and get at least fifteen minutes of exercise a day

Take a short respite break every day by doing something just for you

Learn relaxation techniques

See your doctor regularly and tell him or her about your caregiving commitment

Talk to a professional – therapists, social workers, and clergy members

Talk to friends

Join a caregiver support group

Do not self medicate with alcohol or drugs

Maintain your spiritual life

Involve healthcare professionals who can help you access support services.

Perhaps most importantly, remind yourself daily of the love that inspired you to take on a caregiving role. When you do, it can help you deal with even the most difficult care receivers with compassion and humor.

Finding help can take a considerable amount of research. Here are some options you may want to pursue:

Check into technology that can help. You can:

Purchase an emergency response system service. Your loved one wears a button pendant and when pressed, a monitoring center is alerted and contacts a predetermined list of people who can help.

Set up a baby monitor so you can hear your loved one from another area of your home. For the more techno savvy, you might consider a webcam.

Use a mobility monitor to prevent wandering if your loved one suffers from dementia.

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about caregiving services in your area. Find them by checking the Yellow Pages under Health and Human Services or through the National Eldercare Locator. http://www.eldercare.gov/

Contact your State Unit on Aging. Find them through the National Association of State Units on Aging. http://www.nasua.org/about_nasua/sua_links.html

Find adult day care programs in your area if your loved one is mobile. They can look after your loved one for a full day or just a few hours. Some adult day care centers will provide transportation to and from your home.

Find nursing homes or assisted living facilities that offer short-term respite stays.

Investigate support groups and internet sites devoted to the challenges of caregiving. Check our Resources page for help.

Find out if professional counseling is covered under your health insurance plan. If you're age sixty or over yourself, you may qualify for counseling under the Older Americans Act, Title III-B. This federally funded program provides a variety of in-home and community-based services for individuals with the greatest economic and social need who meet program guidelines.

Check out opportunities for training. The American Red Cross offers hands-on training on how to recognize and respond to emergencies and how to perform CPR. Visiting Nurse Association of American (VNAA) provides training on a variety of topics including wound care, nutrition, controlling diabetes and more.

If you're still in the workforce, get information about the federal Family and Medical Leave Act that provides for caregivers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Or, ask your human resources liaison about other options for unpaid leave.

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies will cover some of the costs of home health care.

Find out if you are eligible for Medicare home health care services by reading Medicare and Home Health Care available at http://www.medicare.gov/Publications/Pubs/pdf/10969.pdf.

Find out if you qualify for Medicaid by calling your State Medical Assistance Office. Get the phone number by going to the Contacts Database of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/apps/contacts.

Consider tapping into faith-based groups, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Family and Children Services, that offer support services for caregiving families.

1 The National Women's Health Information Center, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Caregiver Stress.

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