A Time of Transition
When the person you thought could move mountains when you were a child needs your help to take care of even the basic of needs, the emotional toll can be overwhelming. The transition from child to caretaker is often one fraught with doubt, worry, and stress. However, with some planning and guidelines, it can be a little easier to make the change. Whether a parent needs medical or emotional care can dictate the steps that may be required to help not only them, but the caregiver as well.
Taking on the role of caregiver can be a rewarding change, but it can also be costly, in both monetary and emotional ways. Depending on the needs of the parent, adult children serving as caregivers may not be able to work as many hours outside of the house, or may have to stop working altogether. However, it is possible to qualify for tax credits by claiming an elderly parent as a dependent, which may help to alleviate a portion of the financial hardship that can be associated with taking over as primary caregiver.
Psychological Toll of Caregiving
An estimated 42% of caregivers of elderly individuals are adult children, surpassing the rate of spouses as primary caregivers (Pinquart & Sorensen, 2011). While the activities may be the same, there is a difference in the psychological distress between caregiving spouses and adult children. Research has suggested that some of the factors which increase the stress among adult children serving as primary caregiver include conflicting responsibilities, a sense of obligation and duty, and even the gender of the caregiver may contribute to the psychological distress experienced while fulfilling the role of caregiver by adult children (Pinquart & Sorensen, 2011).
The transition from career to caregiver can be a challenge, as many enter into the change with the best of intentions, thinking that they will resume their previous lifestyle once things get settled. While their hearts are in a good place, the reality is that there will be some mental adjustments that are associated with caring for aging parents, and without planning, it can become overwhelming. The whole family may need to be involved in making the transition, as some adult children caregivers are part of what is referred to as the “sandwich generation,” in which they are not only taking care of their parents, but their children as well. Trying to find enough time in the day to ensure that nobody feels abandoned can be a battle.
Steps to Lessen the Stress
While providing caregiving services to parents the caregiver can often forget to take care of their own needs. The level of social support is essential in maintaining a healthy level of balance while juggling multiple roles, such as spouse, parent, and caregiver. Social support can be comprised of either tangible or intangible forms of assistance, and each can help to alleviate some of the stress experienced by caregivers.
A combination of formal and informal social support, such as friends and neighbors in conjunction with respite services can be a useful way to ensure that the caregiver can provide the needed services to not only their aging parent, but also their spouses, and most importantly, themselves (Tang, 2008). Previous research into the importance of formal social support suggests that caregivers who utilize services such as respite services including day-care centers, residential services, and caregiver support groups experience a reduced level of negative outcomes of caring such as stress and diminished well being (Tang, 2008).
Even when precautions such as respite care and planning are taken into account, nearly a quarter of individuals providing caregiving services for their elderly parents have reported that they experience depression symptoms, which is nearly triple the rate of all Americans who suffer from depression (Cucciare, Gray, Azar, Jimenez, & Gallagher-Thompson, 2010). One of the greatest challenges reported by family caregivers pertains to the interaction with nurses and other healthcare professionals in the hospital setting. However, by establishing an effective mode of communication with the medical professionals, both the caregiver and the aging parent can be better prepared.
Healthy Stress Coping
While there may not be any failsafe techniques to prevent the occurrence of experiencing the stress associated with caregiving, there are some useful techniques to consider:
- Make sure you eat healthy meals and stay hydrated
- Exercise for at least 10 minutes per day, as it will clear your mind and relieve a little physical stress
- Rest and sleep are therapeutic and allow your body and mind to recharge
- Take some “me-time,” as caregivers can often neglect their own needs
- Reach out and evaluate your emotions
- Use caregiver resources, such as respite programs
Cucciare, M. A., Gray, H., Azar, A., Jimenez, D., & Gallagher-Thompson, D. (2010). Exploring the relationship between physical health, depressive symptoms, and depression diagnoses in Hispanic dementia caregivers. Aging & Mental Health, 14(3), 274-282. doi:10.1080/13607860903483128
Pinquart, M., & Sorensen, S. (2011). Spouses, adult children, and children-in-law as caregivers of older adults: A meta-analytic comparison. Psychology and Aging, 26(1), 1-14. doi:10.1037/a0021863
Tang, Y. (2008). Social support of elderly caregivers. International Journal of Business and Management, 3(8), 81-84
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.