Lately, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the fact that the population is aging. Medicare issues, housing, medical care, activities for older adults all receive their share of headlines.
My concern (maybe because of my age as a boomer!) is also for caregivers of these older adults. In fact, a recent article from the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco calls caregivers “a population at risk.”
To become a nurse, we would receive years of intensive training before licensure. Most informal caregivers suddenly faced with the reality of caring for an aging parent (or disabled child or spouse) don’t have the luxury of such training.
Well-intentioned caregivers are foisted into a system in which they become informal nurse, financier, chauffeur, medicine-dispenser, chef and social worker. Many caregivers still hold jobs and raise their own families. So it is not surprising that the impact of caregiving spills over into the workplace.
Some caregiver research grabs my attention.
Describe their health as fair to poor and have more stress-related illnesses than their non-caregiver workplace counterparts (AARP, 2002)
Account for 73% of early departures and late arrivals at work, utilize "long and frequent" on-the-job telephone calls; have more mistakes, accidents, conflicts and poor morale and have increased health problems (MetLife study, June, 2003)
Cost American businesses approximately $33.66 billion annually in lost productivity, worker replacement, absenteeism and other consequences of employees focusing more on their caregiving duties than on their work. (St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors, 2007)
Turn down promotions and assignments or take early retirement, costing nearly $659,000 over their lifetime in lost wages, social security and pension contributions. (MetLife study, June, 2003)
(Females) have mammograms less often as reported in a national survey on caregiver health (Family Caregiver Alliance, March 2007 article)
Are a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases (EAP Digest, Summer 2006)
The difference between stress and burnout? I found a good description by Dr. Arch Hart who works with clergy burnout. Stress gives us a feeling of “this is too much,” but I am able to maintain. Burnout means “I’m on empty.” Caregivers experiencing burnout are often devoid of feeling, unmotivated and unable to juggle the demands that someone “stressed” still can.
Take action now. Before reaching “burnout” stage, caregivers need to avail themselves of the tremendous amount of help out there for the asking. Believe me, as a clinical counselor, I’ve heard all the excuses: “I don’t have time.” “I feel guilty leaving (him/her) to help myself.” “I think I can tough it out and do it myself.” The majority of times, situations worsen, the caregiver becomes sick or begins to socially isolate, and burnout often ensues.
So, consider these options for your older loved one:
Adult Day Care
Consider these options for yourself:
Help from church members, family, friends, neighbors (If they offer, let them help you. If they don’t offer, ask).
Join a support group
Confide in others. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. It’s appropriate to have mixed feelings.
Seek counselors trained in caregiver/older adult issues.
Work on your boundaries. Sometimes older adults may have a sense of entitlement and become inconsiderate of your need to care for yourself and your family. Again, a counselor can assist you in creating boundaries.
Schedule time for exercise.
Consider Elder Mediation for decision-making over caregiver and older adult conflicts.
After working 13 years in family, divorce and elder mediation, we’re amazed at what can be accomplished in a short time and are often touched by the amount of healing that can take place when few thought it was possible.
For information about Elder, Divorce or Family Mediation, please call Dr.John Bertchler or Patti Bertschler at 216-236-6200. Northcoast Conflict Solutions, 7819 Broadview Road, Suite 4, Seven Hills, OH 44131. www.ncsmediation.com
Adapted and reprinted with permission of The Cleveland Women’s Journal
Patti Bertschler is a clinical counselor, mediator, author, trainer and co-owner of Northcoast Conflict Solution in Seven Hills, Ohio. She is co-author of TRUCE! Using Elder Mediation to Resolve Conflict among Families, Seniors and Organizations (©2004) and Elder Mediation: A New Solution to Age-Old Problems (© 2009). Her booklet 88 Tips for Shy Introverts: Becoming Personally and Professionally Assertive was published in 2010. Patti can be reached via website, www.ncsmediation.com or by calling (216) 236-6200.