A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need. Most Americans will be caregivers at some point during their lives. In fact, there are currently more than 40 million adults in the United States who provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 years or older, and it is estimated that families provide 80% or more of the long-term care for their aged or disabled family members. This includes everything from managing day-to-day activities, medications, and finances to coping with medical emergencies and emotional meltdowns.
As baby boomers reach the age of retirement, instead of spending this time traveling and relaxing they’re finding themselves placed back into the role of caregivers. In an even more difficult situation are those who are still working and raising their own families on top of it all, more commonly referred to as the “sandwich generation.” Members of the sandwich generation are finding themselves taking care of their parents and their own children, and in some cases even grandchildren. Further complicating matters they have less time to take care of themselves and often have their own medical issues to deal with.
“It’s circumstance very common among many of our clients’ families,” said Renata Gelman, clinical manager at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. The agency provides short and long-term at-home care to primarily elderly individuals. “It’s a really challenging juggling act. That’s where we can help lend a hand and lessen the burden of care, whether it’s ensuring a loved one’s safety within the home or helping with daily chores like meal preparation, laundry, light housekeeping, etc.”
The enormous responsibility that these caregivers find themselves faced with can easily lead to stress, burnout, and depression. Here are some of the most common stressors reported by the sandwich generation:
Financial strain: Some caregivers have to cut back on work hours or are unable to work at all depending on the situation of their loved ones. Add to that the medical expenses and cost of extra food, toiletries and living space needed to accommodate extra dependents (especially in the NYC area), and the situation can become dire quickly.
Guilt, guilt and more guilt: For feeling stressed, resentful, and/or overwhelmed. For feeling like there is not enough time to accomplish everything that needs doing. For letting quality time with children, family and friends take a back seat to the enormous list of daily tasks that must be done.
Isolation: Even if you had friends to talk to, who has the time these days? It’s hard to keep in touch with family and friends, hard to find help and resources and hard to find other people who know what you’re going through, sometimes even the people you’re living with.
Roles split between children/husband/aged parent: It’s hard to feel patient with a tantruming toddler when you just finished bathing a difficult parent. It’s hard to feel romantic with your partner when you just got done disciplining a tantruming toddler. It’s hard to pleasantly bathe an aging parent when you just argued with your spouse. And round and round it goes…
Maintaining marriage/ personal life: Finding time to go to the bathroom alone becomes a challenge, let alone keeping a date night or getting to the gym. Everyone needs something, and the spinning class you signed up for somehow just doesn’t seem to rank as highly.
Not feeling appreciated. Yes, you’ve given up date night, spinning class, your late night bath, a dinner that hasn’t been reheated 4 times, sleeping in – and do your children even notice? Does your parent? Hardly. But they are quick to point out that they don’t like their peas touching the spaghetti and that they don’t like taking all of those pills.
Medical issues of children and parents: Managing medications, falls, common colds, stomach bugs, digestive issues, emotional issues, and the occasional emergency – clearly the recipe for financial strain, isolation and stress.
Cramped space. Space isn’t exactly easy (or cheap) to come by in NYC, let alone when you’re talking about 3 generations under 1 roof.
It’s important to realize that, no matter how desperate your situation might seem, you are not alone in this (remember, over 40 million others are going through a similar experience right now). Renata Gelman offers some helpful caregiver tips to combat these stressors:
• Talk to your employer: Your situation is one that could bleed into work if you’re not careful. Talk to your employer about your heavy schedule outside of work to prepare them for instances in which you might have to leave early or suddenly.
• Seek family/friend support: You don’t have to be alone. Sibilings, friends or your spouse are good people to ask for help. If you have siblings, try to work out a schedule of care with them to take some of the load off. In any instance, even help with one minor chore during a hectic day can make a big difference.
• Get professional assistance: Home health aides can help to varying degrees, either taking over the majority of your workload with your elderly loved one or simply subbing in to give you a much-deserved breather.
• Make a schedule: When you’re being pulled in so many different directions, things can get chaotic. Keeping a schedule will maintain your organization and help prepare you for what’s next.
• Give yourself a break: The emotional stress of caring for others can be exhausting and overwhelming. Make a point to set aside an hour a day for something you like to do – anything from reading the morning paper or taking a relaxing walk to clear your head.
Renata Gelman, RN, BSN, is clinical manager for Partners in Care, an affiliate of The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the largest home health care agency in the United States. Partners in Care provides quality private care services to people in their homes or communities, including personal care and companionship, private duty nursing, patient review assessments and geriatric care management. She is responsible for establishing treatment plans for Partners in Care clients and coordinating the appropriate home health care staffing resources required. She manages a multi-disciplinary team of approximately 50 field nursing and home health care professionals at Partners in Care.