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HHL Caregiving Awareness

Campaign to Raise Awareness About the Growing Caregiving Community and Their Unmet Need

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The Strain and Stress of Caregiving

10/11/2016 12:24PM | 4583 views

Given the emphasis that Latinos place on family, it’s no wonder that so many are so willing to take on the task of caring for an elderly parent or a loved one that falls ill. But too often, these family caregivers plunge headfirst into the role without thinking through the strain and stress that will come with it – and the toll it may take on their own health. Some may think they have no choice, and for those it may be even more important to weigh the risks – the emotional stress, the physical strain, and the financial burden – against the reality of their current situation. 

Emotional Stress

According to the report, Impacts of Informal Caregiving on Caregiver Employment, Health, and Family, (IZA DP No. 8851, Jan Michael Bauer and Alfonso Sousa-Poza, February 2015), a caregiver’s life can be greatly impacted, especially in three major areas: employment, health, and family. Among their conclusions: “Caregiving can be a mentally and physically burdening task that negatively affects caregiver health. Such caregiving tends to lower the quality of the caregiver’s psychological health, which also has a negative impact on physical health outcomes. Because caregiving is constantly present within the household [it] therefore affects the family’s daily living.”

The paper concludes that though there may be some psychological benefits to caregiving – the feel good effect of doing good and feeling needed – it isn’t enough to overcome the excess mental and emotional stress. In fact, depending on the level of intensity and amount of time you put into it, caregiving can become debilitating. Care for the Family Caregiver:A Place to Start (March 2010 Edition, prepared by National Alliance for Caregiving and EmblemHealth) warns that those who spend most of their day tending to another’s serious health needs may be prone to clinical depression and anxiety attacks, which can last (like post traumatic stress) even when their caregiving duties are over.

Physical Strain

Emotional stress, left unchecked, can easily start to take a toll on a caregiver’s physical health, which is already under the strain of trying to balance their own life – especially if trying to maintain a full time job – with the time and energy demands of caregiving.  Care for the Family Caregiver:A Place to Start sums it up thus: “Caregivers face multiple responsibilities and complex demands of their time, energy and efforts. Many caregivers work full-time outside the home and care for spouses and children as well as frail or ill family members. As a result, caregiving can take a significant physical and psychological toll. It is therefore important for you as a caregiver to take steps to maintain your health and well-being.”

In other words, to take care of someone else, you’ve got to take care of yourself too. Too keep from being overwhelmed, the paper recommends not trying to go it alone. Now more than ever, you need a “support system” who can offer back-up help and enable you to take breaks every now and then – or on a regular schedule. Without breaks from the constant demands of caregiving, your diet and exercise are sure to suffer too, which puts your physical health at even greater risk.

Financial Burden

For many, caregiving can impose a heavy financial burden. Not only are you spending productive working hours on what is basically a non-paying job, but you may be putting your own employment status and earning potential at risk.

An article for Mundo Hispánico by Melody Miranda Aulet reported one statistic that shows the extent of the situation in the Latino community: “More than 8 million Hispanics [take] care of family elders without receiving any compensation, according to the 2008 study, Hispanic Family Caregiving in the U.S.

When caregiving becomes a full-time job, your real job is bound to suffer. As indicated by each of the sources referenced in this article, you can expect some or all of the following to happen if you don’t take measures to avoid them: a decrease in productivity and quality at work, declining performance reviews, lost wages, promotions passed over for, and other missed opportunities seized by others in your absence.

If you find yourself experiencing any or all of these, it may behoove you to seek alternate care for your loved one – before circumstances force your hand.

Are you a family caregiver with a story to tell? Share your experience with other HHL readers.  

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