The stress of caring for aging parents or a spouse with dementia is well known to unpaid caregivers, leading to caregiver burnout. And the numbers are staggering.
According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimates of more than 65.7 million Americans serve as informal caregivers either to a child with special needs or an adult who lives in the community and needs help.
The AARP compiled a report on family caregivers, the executive summary is here. This is not the typical paid in home care services, but families struggling to do it all on their own, leading to caregiver burnout.
These informal caregivers are family, friends or volunteers who provide care for a loved one. Informal caregivers are rarely paid directly for their services. They may receive indirect payment through sharing a loved one’s income or assets.
Caregivers face many challenges providing care at home. A wife caring for her husband may risk injury trying to move help him with activities of daily living such as help him bathe or use the toilet. One spouse who has medical issues may be trying to care for the other spouse who has cognitive decline and needs dementia care.
The financial impact is another challenge. If a spouse offering informal care is employed and has to quit his or her job to provide care there is a significant impact on that family’s finances. The same is true when an adult child cuts back hours or quits a job altogether to care for aging parents.
There can also be significant impact on the emotional and physical health of the caregiving spouse. Because of the strain and caregiver burnout often associated with caregiving, the healthy spouse may experience deteriorating health and eventually require long term care services as well. In some cases healthy spouses have succumbed drastically to the pressures of caregiving and died prematurely, well before their care recipients have died.
Any member of the family providing informal caregiving services should be aware of five issues that may arise;
- Inadequate care provided to a loved one
- Lack of training for caregivers
- Lack of social stimulation for care recipients
- Informal caregivers unable to handle the challenge
- Depression and physical ailments caused by caregiver burnout
A reputable home care agency may alleviate some of the caregiver burnout by providing respite care for the informal caregiver, basically a break to tend to his or her own needs, social experiences, hobbies or medical appointments.