A caregiver is a person who attends to the needs of a dependent child or adult. The care that this person provides can come in many forms: assisting in activities of daily living, keeping track of medications, providing companionship, or helping to manage finances. While the dependent person is usually living in the same house as the caregiver, many adult children are responsible for parents who live in a nursing home or assisted living environment.
Caregiving often includes a wide range of activities that occupy almost every hour of the day and, in some cases, round-the-clock care. Such responsibilities include cooking and serving meals, transportation to appointments, changing beds, bathing and grooming, shopping, banking and paying bills.
Taking responsibility for another person is among the leading causes of stress. Take, for example, the case of Helen, a woman in her fifties who retired early from her job as a health care administrator to enjoy her garden and her grandchildren. Suddenly, her father-in-law moved in and her time had to be devoted to caring for a cantankerous, frustrated diabetic patient who demanded high carbohydrate foods, alcoholic drinks and chair-side service, with no word of appreciation. Obviously, such stress can lead to health problems for the caregiver.
Statistics show that 22.9 percent of individuals 65 years or older are disabled or in need of long term care. Dementia patients make up 22 percent of those requiring services. Of those providing the care 72.5 percent are female, and most of the caregiving responsibilities are not shared.When Care is Necessary
The onset of need for care is sometimes gradual, and at other times it is sudden. An example of gradual onset is an Alzheimer’s patient who gradually loses his memory and physical abilities and begins to rely more and more on others to provide assistance. An example of a sudden need for caregiving is a patient who suffers a sudden heart attack and needs care throughout the recovery period.
Causes of Stress and Health Problems
As they tend to the needs of others, caregivers themselves may succumb to the stress of their responsibilities. The time they commit to their duties as caregiver takes away from their leisure time, but it also robs them of the time to take care of their own health through exercise, nutritious meals, social relationships and favorite hobbies.
The causes of stress from the additional duties can also have repercussions on job performance—if indeed the caregiver can manage to keep a job. Losing a job because of additional responsibilities at home and the loss of income are also causes of stress.
While providing for others’ needs can be rewarding, feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, and self-doubt are also normal. Suddenly, the person who has always hated housework is faced with even more of it. An otherwise competent person may feel insecure about administering medication and monitoring vital signs. Even worse, financial pressure may cause an additional burden as a family has to make do with fewer services and small luxuries.
Health problems attributable to all of these pressures can affect the caregiver gradually or suddenly. Common health problems include depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety.