What Is Caregiver Role Strain?
Caring for people, inherently, means that the caregiver will be giving their energy to someone else. Even if someone loves being a caregiver, and is great at it, and has dedicated their life or career to this, it can still be draining. It can feel like you’re giving all of yourself for the sake of somebody else, and this can be a very noble pursuit, but if you aren’t taking care of yourself then not only are you suffering for that, but the care you’re able to offer may suffer, too.
Someone who is willing to step up and give care is a very special person, but caregiver fatigue is real. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it happens, it’s just part of the job.
Signs of Caregiver Role Strain and How to Deal With It:
The signs of caregiver role strain can vary from person to person. Some may experience certain signs and not other ones, and the signs can present themselves to varying degrees. Nonetheless, these are all signs that you (or someone you know) could be struggling with caregiver fatigue, and it’s very important that you don’t ignore these signs. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, they may get worse the longer they’re ignored. The ways to fix them can also vary from person to person, so we’ll go over a handful of techniques to keep in mind.
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, insomnia
- Loss of appetite, or increased appetite
- Feeling exhausted, sluggish all the time
- Losing interest in things that were previously enjoyed
- Withdrawing from friends, family, less social interactions
- Feeling more emotional than usual, crying more easily
- Among other signs of role strain for caregivers
Being mindful of caregiver role strain and how to fix it is already enough to help things, just the simple awareness and mindfulness can make a difference, but it’s not enough. Ignoring it isn’t an option, simply being aware of it isn’t enough to fix it, so it has to be addressed head-on.
If these sound similar to the symptoms that one would experience when struggling with depression, that’s because they go hand in hand. Caregiver role strain and depression can go hand in hand.
Who is at Risk for Caregiver Role Strain?
As the name implies, it is caregivers who are at risk for caregiver role strain. This applies to all caregivers, including:
- Nurses and healthcare professionals
- Personal or private caregivers for elderly people
- Family members caring for loved ones
It can apply to anybody who is taking care of someone else, and not just in a professional or paid setting. You can be a caregiver for an ailing spouse, a family member, or a nurse who is hired to care for one person or many people. The same struggles can apply in any of these cases.
Tips For Dealing With Caregiver Role Strain
When you have identified that you have some degree of caregiver role strain, there is a lot that you can do to help with it. You may not be able to completely eliminate this strain, but ideally you’ll be able to get back to feeling relatively normal, with the regular amount of stress that one might expect from caring for someone else, without it being overwhelming. It’s still going to be challenging sometimes.
When you fix something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect and just-like-new again, and the same is true for caregivers. You can address the strain, the stresses, and depression you feel, but expecting any of the stress or toll from caregiving to just disappear probably isn’t very realistic. Still, it’s worth trying, because you can always take steps towards feeling better and minimizing the toll. With that in mind, here are some tips for reducing the symptoms caused by caregiver role strain.
Depending on the level of cognition and ability of the person you’re caring for, having an open dialogue is important. You aren’t just some omnipotent being who rules over their day, it’s very much a team-effort. This can be difficult, because you don’t want to make them feel like a burden or like their need for care is ruining your life, especially in a situation where it’s a family member or loved one. With that in mind, boundaries are still important and it’s not your imperative to sacrifice your own well-being and happiness to jump through hoops for somebody who has unrealistic expectations.
If you’re feeling frustrated, if there are things the recipient of care is doing that makes it difficult for you to enjoy your life to its fullest (or at least, a reasonable level given the current circumstances), then these things need to be communicated. It’s okay to have your own needs, and to communicate those to the person you’re caring for. You aren’t selfish. Just because you’re in the position to give care instead of needing it, that doesn’t mean you don’t have needs of your own. Identify them, communicate them, and you’ll start to feel a lot better.
Have a Team
If there are other family members or loved ones or friends who can help, even a little bit, that’s weight off the shoulders of the primary caregiver. Even small tasks, or little chunks of time, can be enough to help stave-off caregiver fatique, or to let you rechage your batteries a bit.
There may not be other family members in the picture who can help, which is when respite care can be a very important service to consider.
Schedule and Organize
Being organized, for people who don’t naturally have this personality trait, takes effort and hard work, but it’s a lot easier than being disorganized. Clearing your life of the chaos of disorganization makes it easier to provide care, and feels like shaking cobwebs off of your mind. It means that when emergencies happen, you’re better prepared. It means that you’re better prepared for just about anything.
Coming up with a schedule is important, too. If you don’t find yourself able to take time for yourself that often, try scheduling it like you schedule the rest of your day. You can still be available for an emergency, but setting aside this time for yourself means you’re free from being interrupted by anything that can wait a bit.
Be Mindful of Yourself
Look for things that cause you feel extra stressed, or trigger you to feel upset, or anger you. Pay mind to these triggers, because that will make it possible to better understand what causes them, and how to know when they’re coming, and therefor how to minimize them. If you find yourself feeling more tired at certain times of the day, or dreading certain tasks and parts of your day, or getting angry and irritated at certain things, please take note of all of this.
Simply being aware of your feelings and your moods and where you’re at mentally can help keep you grounded, but more importantly it means you can have strategies in place for how to deal with these things.
When you ignore your needs for long enough, it can start to feel like you don’t even have them. You need to reconnect with your wants, needs, and whatever brings you joy.
Activities Together, For You
When you’re caring for someone and spending most of your time with them and doing a lot of things with them, it’s okay if some of those things are for you, and not just for them. If there are things you enjoy like a quiet evening watching movies, or sitting in the park, or doing low-impact exercises, maybe there is a way to combine that into your schedule with the person you’re caring for, so that you have some scheduled items to look forward to with them.
Does Medicare Cover Respite Care?
Medicare Advantage plans can optionally cover various support services, with an emphasis on keeping loved ones in their own homes for as long as they can, before they have to move to a nursing facility.
Some Medicare Advantage plans offer this, but other ones don’t, so this is an important benefit to look for if it’s relevant to your needs or the needs of a loved one. Plans can offer their own specific benefit packages when it comes to respite care, which will vary from plan to plan depending on what’s available and how much the plan costs. Original medicare will also cover 95% of the costs for certain types of cares for the elderly like respite care, in certain circumstances, but it must be deemed medically necessary, and requires the patient to be terminally ill and currently in the process of receiving hospice benefits.
Even if coverage is limited or lacking, taking a break is crucial for a caregiver to stay on top of everything, to ensure they’re happy, and to ensure they’re able to continue providing the fantastic care that their loved ones are counting on them to provide. Dealing with caregiver role strain is not easy, it can be a real struggle, which is why it’s so important to get help whenever you can.