Millie Ann Ferguson, 58, is caring for her 80-year-old mother, Lillie. The feisty octogenarian insists on remaining in the home she shared with her late husband of 50-years, and refuses to move to a senior assisted living facility. Millie, who lives 12-miles from her mom, finds herself having to stop by every single day to check on her.
Millie does her mom’s grocery shopping, housekeeping, laundry, bill paying, banking, takes her to all of her medical appointments and brings her three square meals a day. Lillie does not want ‘strangers’ in her home and will not allow Millie to hire a daytime caregiver to help out. Millie, who is married and has two children who are away at college, sometimes feels as if she is going to ‘lose it.’ “I love my mom but I often find myself neglecting my own responsibilities because I feel an obligation to be there for her. I am my mother’s only child, and have no siblings whom I can lean on. If I don’t make sure my mom is taken care of properly, I absolutely could not handle the guilt!”
Millie is one of 65 million adults in this country who is caring for an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one. According to research, 87 percent of caregivers are sleep deprived, stressed beyond measure. The need for support has never been greater for African American caregivers, who are becoming older, are more likely to be isolated and to experience care-related strain.
More than a fifth of African American caregivers pay for care-related expenses, while 48.1 percent of them are less likely to be working part- or full-time. Additionally, more than a fourth of African American caregivers report having no family, friends or neighbors to help them, which makes them solely responsible for all caregiving duties. According to a recent survey, about a third of African American caregivers report being more isolated, experience mental health strain and physical health strain due to caregiving.
Burning the candle at both ends is a recipe for disaster. A caregiver, who is trying to juggle too much is setting themselves up for their own set of health issues down the line.
The signs of caregiver burnout
There are warning signs to let you know you have caregiver burnout:
- Extreme fatigue
- Lack of energy
- Sleep issues
- Changes in appetite
- A feeling of hopelessness
- No longer interested in your own activities
- Neglecting your physical and emotional needs
- Mood changes–irritability, anger, impatience
Prevent caregiver burnout
Now that you’ve learned the signs of caregiver burnout, take action to improve your situation:
Ask for help: Getting the assistance you need to help care for your loved one does NOT make you thoughtless and unfeeling! What it does mean is that you need help to do the job even more effectively. Careforth provides an expert care team, emotional support, and financial assistance for families caring for loved ones at home; 866-950-2266, Careforth.com.
The Administration for Community Living’s National Family Caregiver Support Program provides grants to states and territories to fund various supports that help family and informal caregivers care for older adults in their homes for as long as possible. Family caregivers can present their unique needs and preferences for the types of programs and services they wish to receive at any given point in time; ACL.gov.
The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) is the nation’s leading family caregiver organization working to improve the quality of life for the more than 90 million Americans who care for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of older age. CAN is a nonprofit organization providing education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers nationwide free of charge; caregiveraction.org.
Be willing to give up some control. Delegating is one thing, trying to control every aspect of care is another. People will be less likely to help if you micromanage everything they try to do.
Take breaks: Stop neglecting yourself. Take a long luxurious bath, pray, journal, meditate, exercise, get a massage, visit with friends, go for a long walk or drive, take frequent breaks from your stress in order to unwind and get back to you.
Don’t stop taking care of you: Don’t cancel your doctor’s appointments, skip meals, or stop going to the gym because you can’t fit these necessities into your schedule. By all means do not sacrifice sleep because if you’re deprived in this area, you won’t be able to help anyone else.
Make lists: Put together a list delegating tasks to a spouse, significant other, children, friends, you’ll find that oftentimes, folks won’t mind sharing your load.
Check on Family-Leave: Check with your company’s human resources department on family-leave benefits if you feel you need to be home for a while to take care of a loved one.
Emotional support: If you are caring for a loved one in a hospice situation, be sure to get the emotional support you need to help you better cope. Seek out a support group that centers around grief–Grief.com, GriefShare.org.
Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish for more hours in the day or force your spouse or children to help out more. Rather than freaking out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems.
Celebrate the small victories. If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that everything you do, and ALL of your efforts matter. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!