There are over 34 million people in the US that provide care for someone over the age of 50. Although there tends to be an average profile for caregivers, their population is greatly diverse representing both genders and all races, cultures and ages. However, the majority of caregivers give of themselves without expecting anything in return, and they rarely think of themselves first. Caregiving is a rewarding experience for most, but also has many challenges and burdens that cause great amounts of stress.
Caregiver stress needs to be managed or caregivers will experience burnout, which is a syndrome of mental, emotional, and physical depletion. Burnout interferes with a caregiver’s ability to function and is the leading cause of nursing home placement of the care receivers. The good news is that there are ways to prevent and manage caregiver stress by practicing methods of self-care:
- Practice relaxation techniques – deep breathing, meditation, music, etc.
- Express feelings by talking with someone
- Set realistic expectations about what the caregiver and care receiver can do
- Educate yourself on the care receiver’s condition and skills needed to assist
- Take care of your own physical needs – good sleep, meals and exercise
- Accept help from others and don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Get respite care and take breaks
- Practice good communication and optimism
These suggestions are especially important when there is a dangerous situation like a natural disaster or if the care receiver is considered vulnerable and is quarantined. Here are some additional tips for caregivers to keep in mind as they provide care for others. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Stock up on prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and medical supplies that relate to care receiver’s condition and treatments; nonperishable food items to last for a long stay at home; and other general supplies.
- Revisit emergency contingency plans and touch base with family and friends that can help with certain activities like grocery shopping and transportation.
- If care receivers are considered vulnerable and are quarantined, caregivers need to use appropriate precautions when out in the community and then returning to the care receiver. A population identified as vulnerable should try to stay home as much as possible and if someone brings food and supplies, have them leave it at the door. Online orders can be made and delivered to the door as well.
- Cancel any non-essential medical appointments and attend essential appointments by phone or video-based system if available.
- Practice proper hygiene like hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces regularly.
- Spend quality time with the care receiver and your family – be present with the people and things you do enjoy.
Some great caregiver resources can be found online at:
- U of I Extension Caregiving Resources
- AARP Caregiving Tools:
- Illinois Department on Aging Caregiver Support
- National Institute on Aging Caregiving
- Eldercare Locator
Adapted from: Practical Tips for Caregivers Concerned About Coronavirus, Caregiver Self Care, Updated 2017, University of Illinois Extension