In any given year, an estimated 29% of the United States population, or 65 million people, are caregivers. The typical caregiver spends 20 hours or more each week providing unpaid care to someone aged 50 years or older. The National Family Caregiving Association found that 61% of caregivers providing at least 20 hours of caregiving per week suffered from depression.
Research shows that caregiver depression is a complex interplay of medical, social, and economic factors. Several studies suggest that caregivers with poorer health, or fewer financial resources, are at higher risk for depression.The high incidence of depression among caregivers profoundly affects their physical health, particularly in regard to immune function. There is strong evidence that difficult patient behaviors such as anger and aggressiveness influence caregiver depression more so than cognitive impairment.
Tips to Offset Trends
- Get the Help You Need: Take Advantage of Community Programs. Not only can local programs provide you emotional support, they can be great resources for local activities, educational classes and medical/health information that you may not be aware of (Visiting Nurse Services, Ambulatory Transportation, Senior Centers, etc.)
- Learn About Your Loved Ones Experience: By educating yourself about illness or the life cycle for those tending to the elderly grounds you in what you can expect. The more you know, the more effective you'll be, and the better you'll feel about your efforts.
- Communicate Clearly. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give - and be mindful that not doing so can lead to burn-out. Set clear limits, and communicate them to family members, friends, doctors, nurses and all others involved.
- Can Somebody Else Do It? Sometimes you need to figure out if you're truly the only one who can take of an issue regarding the care for your loved one. This may mean delegating, relinquishing control or spending money to get the help you need.
- Accept a wide range of feelings. Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. As long as you don't compromise the well-being of your loved one, give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you're feeling.
- Take Scheduled Breaks: Don't forget to build time away from your caretaking responsibilities. Make having fun a chief goal so you can hold onto a sense of hope and optimism.
- Confide in Others. Talk to people about what you feel; don't keep your emotions bottled up. Caregiver support groups are invaluable, but trusted friends and family members can help too. You may also benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor. Troubles shared are troubles halved.
- Be Proud of Yourself: Celebrate the fact that you are caring for another person by allowing others to praise you for your efforts. Research shows that upwards of 70% of caregivers reported feeling good about being a caregiver.
Covinsky, K.E. et. al (2003). Patient and Caregiver Characteristics Associated with Depression in Caregivers of Patients with Dementia. General Internal Medicine, 18(12), 1006-1014.
Robison J, et. al. (2009). A broader view of family caregiving: effects of caregiving and caregiver conditions on depressive symptoms, health, work, and social isolation. Journal of Gerontology B Series. Psychological Science, 64(6):788-798.
Editorial Note: Dr. Deborah Serani is the author of Living with Depression" by The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.