Home Care Helps Family Caregivers Beat Depression

Today, nearly one-third of all Americans—that's more than 45 million of us—are providing care for an elderly or disabled loved one. Caregiving can be tremendously rewarding. It is an integral part of human nature to take care of those we love.

But these rewards often are accompanied by stress and anxiety. Caregivers struggle to balance jobs and other responsibilities. They may feel grief at the change in their loved one's condition, guilt that they aren't doing enough, and anxiety as to whether they are doing a good job. The AARP Public Policy Institute recently reported that more caregivers today are called upon to perform wound care, medication management and other tasks for which they do not feel prepared. And while tending to their loved one's needs, they often fail to take care of their own health. Studies show that many caregivers have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol that can harm the body in many ways. All of these factors raise the risk of depression. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that at least 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from this condition—twice the rate found in the noncaregiver population.

Depression may creep up gradually on caregivers, leaving them thinking that their loss of energy and low mood are just "the new normal" in their lives. It's important to be alert for the symptoms of depression: a persistent feeling of sadness, lack of energy, changes in normal eating and sleeping, memory disturbances and impaired concentration, loss of interest in usual activities, and trouble keeping up with normal tasks at home and work. Depression affects the whole person: mind, body and emotions. Caregivers noticing these symptoms should consult their healthcare provider. All too often, people feel that somehow they will just snap out of it. But depression is an illness that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it is important that it be treated.

Treatment for depression might include lifestyle changes (better nutrition, exercise, spending more time with others) and counseling. In many cases, medication helps. Yet here is another way caregivers are challenged: A study from Express Scripts found that although family caregivers are more likely to be prescribed medications for depression and anxiety, they also are less likely to take their medications as prescribed.

For many caregivers, the best "prescription" is to get some help with their caregiving tasks! Lessening the workload can overcome the negative health effects of caregiving and allow caregivers to focus on the rewards. An October 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University even showed that when caregivers don't feel overburdened, caregiving actually may be correlated with longer life! Dr. David L. Roth reported that taking care of a loved one offers a self-esteem boost that is good for emotional health—if the caregiver's workload is "done at manageable levels." Says Roth, "If highly stressful situations can be avoided or managed effectively, caregiving may actually offer some health benefits for both the care recipients and the caregivers, including reduced risk of death for those providing care."

It is worthwhile to make a plan for lowering the workload and associated stress. Caregivers first should learn all they can about their loved one's condition and about resources that are available in the community. Can friends lend a hand? What help is available from government and volunteer organizations? What local adult day centers, assisted living and long-term care facilities offer respite care?

For many families, professional in-home care supplements family-provided care in ways that allow family caregivers to tend to their own health and needs. In-home care supports the emotional well-being of caregivers across the spectrum:

In-home caregivers can be there when caregivers can't. With a skilled, reliable caregiver in the home, family are able to work, play, exercise, attend to their own healthcare appointments, and enjoy the many other mood-boosting activities that tend to fall by the wayside as their loved one’s care needs increase. Professional in-home caregivers provide companionship, supervision, nutritious meals, transportation, medication reminders, and assistance with following the healthcare provider's recommendations.

Professional in-home care normalizes family dynamics. When an elder parent, spouse or other loved one needs care, the changed relationship between the two can be emotionally difficult. Caregivers often feel overburdened even as they are dealing with their loved one's grief over loss of independence and autonomy. When a professional in-home caregiver helps a client dress, bathe, shave, go to the toilet and perform other personal care tasks, this removes some of the emotional distress associated with the caregiving role—and preserves the care receiver's sense of dignity, as well.

In-home caregivers take care of challenging tasks. Did you know that many family caregivers today are dealing with their own age-related health problems? It may be unsafe for them to help their loved one walk or transfer from bed to chair, or to assist with other physically taxing hands-on care. Professional caregivers are trained to perform these tasks safely. They also can do housekeeping, laundry and other tasks that keep all household members safe, and healthy, and in good spirits.

Professional in-home care reduces worry for family caregivers. Many family caregivers experience anxiety when their loved one is home alone. They never quite relax enough to recharge their emotional batteries, because they are always concerned about how their loved one is doing. This nonstop fretting can increase stress and depression. What a difference it makes to know that their loved one could get help if a fall were to occur ... has assistance getting to the bathroom … and is not sitting isolated at home.

In-home caregivers provide supportive care for clients who have Alzheimer's disease and other dementia. Studies show that depression levels are highest in family caregivers whose loved one is living at home with Alzheimer's disease. Dealing with the day-to-day issues of caring for a person with dementia is very stressful. In-home caregivers provide supervision, hygiene support and solutions for dealing with difficult behaviors such as wandering, aggression and sleep disturbances.

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Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.