Being a caretaker can be emotionally satisfying and personally enriching. Many adult children eagerly accept the task of taking care of an aging parent as a way to give back to someone who has given so much to them. The recipients of this care likewise welcome the opportunity to share experiences and renew neglected relationships. But care giving is a challenging task that few are prepared for.

What Care Giving Involves

The National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) describes care giving as a “complicated phenomenon.” It includes daily living tasks like helping the patient bathe, use the toilet, get dressed and move around, as well as instrumental activities like housework, meal preparation, grocery shopping, tracking medications and managing finances. The job might initially only involve chores like vacuuming, furnishing transportation, shopping and preparing meals. However, most chronic diseases are progressive and the care receiver’s needs gradually become greater. As a result, caregivers often begin to feel overwhelmed, depressed, guilty and trapped.

The Link between Care Giving, Stress and Depression

The stress of care giving is especially severe when patients suffer from cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease or severe dementia. A NCEA study shows that the rate of depression for non-dementia caregivers is twice that of the general population (35.2 percent) but that rate jumps to between 43 and 45 percent for caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers. The National Family Caregiver’s Association (NFCA) has documented that family caregivers suffer from depression much more frequently than the rest of the population.

The signs of serious depression listed by the American Psychiatric Association are:

  • Constant sadness
  • Irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Unwarranted feelings of guilt
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Significant weight change

Extreme stress also puts caregivers at greater risk for hypertension, premature aging, a compromised immune system, a greater likelihood of suffering from a chronic illness, lessening of the ability to make good decisions and even premature death.

Making the Decision

Making the decision to seek respite care generally depends on the caregiver’s acknowledgement that she is not Super Woman but a loving person who, like all humans, has limitations. Harboring resentment only leads to greater burnout, health problems and even the physical or emotional abuse of the care recipient.

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