Caring for caregivers also vital: they need a respite!
Most of today’s adults looking after the trial elderly are relatives or friends (three-quarters of them women), who will likely be taking care of a spouse, parent or parent-in-law. One University of Toronto expert notes that “taking care of aging relatives is a family affair although the bulk of is usually falls on the daughter(s). Most families consider caregiving a primary duty.” Informal caregivers don’t usually withdraw their help even when formal services are enlisted. In fact, they often become more solicitious when other services area obtained, reassured not to be bearing the burden alone. The average age of Canadian caregivers ranges from 50 to 65 years, 10 per cent being over 75 themselves! Husbands who provide senior care are reportedly among the oldest of caregivers, also donating the most caregiving hours. However, senior caregivers — deservedly known as “hidden patients” — often have their own health problems which may be aggravated by the demands of caregiving. Although taking care of an elderly person brings many rewards, it can also involve considerable stress, especially if it is for a long time or for a difficult person. Caregiver and care recipient often perceive their relationship differently — those receiving care rating depedency lower than the caregivers.
Increasing frality, dementia, incontinence and aggressive behaviour due to mental impairment can increase caregivers stress. A demanding illness such as Alzheimer’s disease often causes confusion, failure to recognize familiar faces, unreasonable, hostile, occasionally even violent or verbally abusive behavior which — although it stems from the disease — is very upsetting. Caregiver stress is also increased by witnessing the warning abilities of a previously strong person without being able to halt it. Overburdened caregivers may become increasingly isolated. One U.S. survey found that 22 per cent of caregivers had no one to discuss problems with and that 46 per cent did the caretaking alone, the rest of the family being unaware of or ignoring the problem. Family members may not want to hear the caregiver’s troubles, and the caregiver — afraid of sounding like a broken record — may stop complaining or requesting help. Small wonder that many caregivers become profoundly depressed. (Clinical depression among caregivers is twice that for non-caregivers of equivalent age, health and social status.) Sharing the burden can prevent the burnout that may occur if caregivers are pushed beyond endurance. Respite services such as geriatric daycare, occasional stays in an institution, or relief caregivers who come into the home while the caregivers takes a break are now available. Caregivers must make time for their own interests, friends, career, hobbies and fun. One University of Toronto expert says that “many people feel guilty if they don’t want to or just can’t care for their relatives, but not all the care needs to be hands-on. Support services can greatly ease the burden. “Caregiver support groups allow people to share problems. The National Advisory Council on Aging calls for greater recognition of informal caregivers, noting their crucial role in assisting seniors. “Since family, friends and neighbours contribute by far the most support, allowing may seniors to maintain their independence, society should recognize, reward and facilitate their central role in supporting the autonomy of frail elders.”
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